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For our intranet application we have little notification messages that indicate successful operations like "information saved," "logged out" etc. Most of them are not important enough to require a modal operation (like Stack Exchange's "click to close" windows) so they close automatically after 2500ms and I'm trying to make them disrupt the user as little as possible. They are however important to present as users need confirmation an action was successful as it may be part of a repetitive or complex workflow.

I want to make sure they're readable and understandable within the time frame so I was wondering if there was any research on how long it takes people to read information especially in a "pop up" style context. It's not actually a pop up window, more like SE's notification bar but it automatically goes away. If I could ballpark how long to expect reading to take it would help tune the duration of the message and the length of messages.

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A word of caution, SirTapTap. Reading something isn't the same as understanding it. You can crunch numbers for mean reading times and come up with "users on average read this many words in this amount of time" but so what - did they understand the message? Your best approach is to try words + timing combinations to assess what is most useful to the user. (This is more a caution than anything else so I deleted my original post from the answers.) –  gef05 Sep 13 '11 at 15:15
If you can, is there a way of allowing the user to recall the message? This makes a difference, because ifthey can, the notification that there is a message is all they NEED to note, whereas if they cannot, they need to note at least the essence of the message. –  Schroedingers Cat Sep 13 '11 at 16:49
If a message appears very often, then make sure that it's very clear when a different message is displayed. (for instance, red colored box instead of green, longer showtime for the not-so-often message) –  Pieter B Jul 12 '12 at 7:53

5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

For what it's worth - I tried a variety of timings myself and ended up at 3200ms for a two line message of up to about 20 words. But I also place a small dot (10px diameter) to the left, which is coloured according to message type (eg red/error, blue/info, orange/warning) and which fades out over the 3200ms. When the fade gets to 100%, the message itself fades out quickly. Users said they like it because it makes the message slightly more noticeable without being too distracting and it made it less of a 'surprise' when the message disappears.

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I like the idea of the icon, I might try that. A current problem is some of the messages are used for error messages and some for success, I was thinking about displaying them differently. –  Ben Brocka Sep 13 '11 at 14:22
We used a similar approach once but instead of fading icon we used a icon which was like a clock... so it used to reduce in circular fashion as the time got elapsed. –  ajayashish Jul 12 '12 at 7:17
@BenBrocka: Yes, display them differently (they can still be in the same basic style). especially when you say that you're using colored dots for different state. Don't forget, some people are color blind. So when displaying error messages, go for texts like "ERROR: ..." or something similar. Also I would advice not to fade out error messages but to clear them an other way, like an (X) or that they automatically disappear once the error has been eliminated. –  Alexej Froehlich Jul 12 '12 at 7:28

I would suggest that any auto-show-auto-hide notification should only contain a short phrase, or at most a short sentence. We use these little bubbles that slide in and back out after a user clicks a save button and it succeeds that simply say "saved." They show for about two and a half seconds and give the user the modeless feedback they need to know that clicking the button did something.

Now an error message where a users action failed to produce a result should probably be a little more prominent or require acknowledgement. I'm not saying make them modal but maybe make the user x it out or something. The same goes for a long message. If I am busy doing something in the application and a little pop out shows up I probably will look at it but only after I finish what I am doing. If its gone by the time I go to look at it I will probably not be very comforted by that.

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Have it display where you can read it 2-3 times.

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On my client's intranet we're using 3 seconds for short confirmation and error messages, and around 5 seconds for longer messages (bearing in mind that longer cannot be that long).

What grabbed my attention though was what you said that you wanted the user to be as least disrupted as possible. On our intranet, on publishing forms for publishers, since they will be seeing confirmation messages a lot, we enabled that on clicking Esc the message will disappear immediately. As they tend to use keyboards and tabs when publishing, Esc will be optimal when they tab+click Save.

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It always depends upon the number of words inside the notification. If the words ranges for 5 to 10, 3 seconds is enough and for the words ranges from 10 to 20 words, It will be better to have it visible for 5 seconds.

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Is there any logic behind those time and the word count. I believe it should be more based on the importance rather than number of words. –  ajayashish Jul 12 '12 at 7:18
Yes, where do you get your information from? Has this been tested somewhere? This comes across as just your opinion rather than some objective evidence. –  JonW Jul 12 '12 at 7:48

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