How often do you look at your phone each day?
The answer might surprise you. The exact number isn’t important… but it’s a lot. More surprising is the number of times this is for non-actionable notifications. With the millions of apps out there, the number of notifications we’re giving users is growing excessively. Eventually, users start to tune it all out.
What can we do about it?
Apple and Google are doing their part to simplify this at the OS level. The iOS notification center was definitely a good start, but it’s not enough. The root cause of notification apathy lies at the source, your app.
[noh-tuh-fi-key-shuh n ap-uh-thee]
When a user simply ignores app notifications and doesn’t care about their contents.
As a UX Designer, we have the ability to make our apps notifications more meaningful and actionable to avoid being ignored as many apps are.
Ok, that sounds good… but how can we approach notifications to be meaningful to our users again on mobile? Let’s think through it.
Why notify users?
First, let’s think through why we would even want to notify a user. Naturally, user’s should control permission to be notified at all. Assuming you have permission, the basis for which you interrupt a user needs to have an appropriate level of importance for the notification method. More on methods in a bit, but for now, let’s look at types of notifications.
This may vary based on the context of your app, but in general, notifications fall into three categories as defined by Bubba Muraka.
User caused notifications (e.g., someone tags you in a photo or post) and system generated (e.g., account changes) are well established and known in the world of mobile UX design. However, contextual notifications are still evolving. We’re all familiar with proximity notifications, such as a friend is nearby. This is a great way to promote social engagement. Location-based notifications are an increasingly utilized method to create interesting experiences that bridge the physical and digital.
So, we want the user to do something and a notification is feels like an appropriate method to get the action that we want. So let’s talk about importance.
How important would this notification be to your users? Not the business or app maker, but to the end user. I can’t answer that question. You probably shouldn’t either. Ask them.
Nothing can replace good old fashion user research and testing. Simply asking them to rate a notification given context may suffice, but you can certainly prototype the experience and observe their reactions as well.
How to notify users?
Let’s explore some common mobile notification methods.
According to the iOS developer library, users can get notified in the following ways:
- An onscreen alert or banner
- A badge on the app’s icon
- A sound that accompanies an alert, banner, or badge
From a user’s perspective, notifications indicate their attention is required. Here are some examples of notifications in iOS:
These are well-established notification methods in app design. I would still challenge you to think through your utilization of them.
With wearables becoming more prominent, designers are going to have even more options for notifying users. This could be a good thing… assuming people don’t make it terrible.
The last bit of advice I’d offer is based on your use of the language in your notifications. As with error and confirmations throughout your app, notifications should be clear, concise and support the personality of the brand/app.
If copywriting isn’t a strength of yours, you may want to consider outsourcing this to a copywriter. It’ll be a small project but you can get a lot of bang for your buck. In particular, mobile notifications promoting reengagement should entice the user… much like a headline and other sales page copy.
Mobile notifications should be useful, important (to the user), clear, concise, and be delivered in an appropriate form to seem natural to the user.
As the designer, you should be constantly asking yourself… Is this useful to the user? Is this necessary? Be relentless, challenge your thought process. Ask others. Remember your notifications are interrupting real people in their day to day lives. They could be at lunch with coworkers, at dinner with loved ones, out sightseeing, jogging, playing with their kids, having a drink with a friend… don’t assume your app is the most important thing in their world.