While user experience design is becoming increasingly user-centered, notifications are one element that haven’t quite caught up. Considering that it has become common knowledge that good UX is good for business, the unfortunate notification-norms we’re seeing today are truly unfortunate.
Notifications are disruptive to our lives. Yes, you can adjust your settings, but why should I have to go through all that? If we really care about our users — and we do, or they won’t care about us — we need to use an empathetic approach and do a cost-benefit analysis. Do we have more to lose/gain by bugging the user until they take precious time out of their day to shut us up, or worse, delete our app? Either will certainly leave a bad taste in their mouths, not inspire them to recommend us to a friend. Or does it make more sense to let power users activate notifications and everyone else move on with their lives in peace?
The main problem is that notifications are too frequent. They are white noise. They notify users about so many unimportant and un-urgent things, that we stop checking them. They don’t mean anything anymore. Presumably, the goal of notifications is to increase engagement, but I would argue that if the majority of notifications are useless to the user, they will not engage with the app for the remainder. In other words, if I can send 10 notifications that give the user value, I might get up to 10 interactions. If I send 400, the user will be conditioned not to interact with any of them at all.
This all begs the question (and answer), “…what would truly smart notifications look like? At a minimum they would be helpful, personal, time-sensitive and relevant.” — UX Collective
Users don’t download apps for altruistic purposes. Users download apps because they believe the apps will help them in some way. If the app is not helpful, it won’t live on their devices for very long. Every touch point should communicate value, from onboarding, to configuring settings and beyond, and of course, that goes for notifications too.
One attempt to serve personal notifications is by leveraging location data. Notifying the user that they are 2 blocks from a great sale going on now is awesome! If I knew that notifications from a certain app often gave me info that I wouldn’t otherwise know, about something I care about and can do right now, you better believe I’d check them.
In the example above, the value of the notification is in large part based on the fact that the sale is going on NOW. Again, notifications are intrusive. They interrupt whatever I was doing before my phone dinged. So they better be more urgent. Don’t disrespect the user by disrupting their day with things content that they can consume later, when they are less distracted, and when the demand for attention will be less annoying.
In general, good product copy conveys everything the user needs and wants to know, not everything the app creators know. Is a certain functionality temporarily unavailable? Tell the user when it will be back up and/or suggest what else they can do in the meantime. Don’t explain which server is down. Always ask yourself, is this something the user cares about? If you don’t have something relevant to say, don’t say anything at all.
iOS vs. Android
On Android, when a user installs an app, they have to take several manual steps to opt-out of getting notifications. The default is to allow them. iOS is more transparent, taking the initiative to ask the user whether they want notifications or not, as opposed to brushing the subject under the rug, and makes opting out easy. There is also a delay in the flow between downloading an app on iOS and having The Talk about notifications; it only seems fair to let the user get to know you a bit before taking the leap to letting you into their lives in such an intimate manner. It’s the same idea as why “subscribe” popups within seconds of landing on a site are bad. Who the hell are you? I don’t even know your name and you want to enter a long-term relationship. Yeah. Right. Give me a second to scroll, to consume your content. Maybe I still won’t want to be friends then, but at that point, there might be a chance that I will.
You can read way more about notifications on iOS vs. Android here, so I won’t paraphrase. I recommend you do read it though. It’s worth your time.
UX is an exciting field to be in right now. It’s growing and its good for users and business alike. The UX of every element of apps across the board is improving. It’s time for notifications to catch up.
UX for notifications: the good, the bad, and the ugly was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.