Have you ever paid attention to the number of notifications and alert messages you receive on a daily basis from various web services and apps? How many of those notifications do you actually care about? These questions are becoming more worrisome as the number of services we use increases while our time and attention still remain limited.
We are receiving so many “beeps” and “pop-ups” during the day that we not only get distracted but then also have a hard time getting back to what we were doing. Eventually we end up dismissing the distracting service altogether or limiting notifications if possible. Why? Let’s see. When you start using a web service or install a mobile app you expect a certain value or a reward to satisfy your initial need and don’t mind getting notifications as long as they carry enough “value-for-interruption,” meaning they are useful and interesting enough to distract you. The problem is very few notifications follow this rule.
As a user, I hate it; but from a product owner’s perspective, notifications hold a greater potential than just informing users of critical errors, app crashes or new IMs. They can be powerful tools for marketers to communicate directly with users and deliver the right message at the right time and place in order to promote engagement. But how can you turn this anti-UX pattern into something meaningful and useful both for a product owner and for a user?
Before diving into the notification design process, ask yourself “do I need notifications at all?” This may sound absurd, but some notifications shouldn’t ever make it to a user’s screen. Sometimes we design notifications for pretty much every error following the usability heuristic “Visibility of system status,” but does the user really need to know? If the notification is purely informative and doesn’t require any action for the system to recover, then maybe it’s not that important. On the other hand, in case of critical errors when the service or app performance depends on a user’s action, which may cause important data loss, notifications come in handy both for the user and the product owner. Google Chrome crashed pages notification is a good example.
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2. Relevance and Timeliness
The best way to stay relevant with notifications is good old user data analysis. Nothing can tell you more about your users than actual behavior stats. When designing notifications, pay attention to product usage data, as well as any other information you have gathered about the target audience. This will help you make notifications relevant for users, increasing chances for a conversion. Relevance also requires you to be timely and notify users at times when they are the least likely to ignore it. Obviously, nighttime isn’t the best for delivering notifications. User stats are helpful when it comes to gathering data on what time zones users are located in and when they are more positively disposed to look at a message.
It’s a good idea to have customizable product features, especially when it comes to notifications. This doesn’t necessarily mean letting users turn off all notification types (though that’s an option every user would love to have), but rather sharing the responsibility for notification content with users. When users select which alerts to receive and which not, they will be much happier seeing notifications of their choosing. If you’re just launching and don’t have enough user data to rely on when designing a notification system, customization is a good option. After some time, you will see a clear pattern of which notifications are useful, relevant and timely for users and which ones need rethinking.
4. Clear and Comprehensible Message
No matter what the content of the notification is, make sure it speaks the same language as your users, literally and figuratively. Keep the message clear and understandable. Avoid using spammy phrases like “You have won!” or “100% FREE.” Try to keep the message concise but comprehensible. Don’t frustrate users with the wording of the alert message. After all, notifications are another communication channel; you need to stay consistent with your brand image and message tone, while being user-friendly and creative.
5. Effective Delivery Method
There are tons of alert types and delivery methods: sms, email notification, mobile app push notification, web notification, pop-up alert, etc. In order to manage those notifications and make a good use of them, we may need to conditionally identify two groups of notifications by interaction type: “Product-to-user notifications” and ”user-to-user notifications.” Depending on the type of service and its goal for the user, these groups of alerts may have different priority levels. For instance, an Instagram user is likely to be more interested in knowing what photos include his or her face or new Facebook friends who’ve joined, rather than being asked to review the app.
Knowing which notification type and delivery method is better perceived by users is a key to improving the overall notification UX of any application.