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I manage a set of websites with a largely non-technical user base. We want to occasionally provide site-wide notices for forthcoming planned maintenance.

We've tried using a messages with red backgrounds but they are too similar to error messages, Github style green messages but they're not noticeable enough. The color schemes the sites use for error messages are similar to the jQuery UI green, red, beige-yellow.

Is there a good compromise for making these site messages immediately noticeable, but not too intrusive?

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Why does your user base need to be informed about planned maintenance? Will the website be unavailable? –  Bart Gijssens Oct 13 '11 at 13:15
    
@Bagi yes - usually 30 minutes, but sometimes up to 2 hours. –  Chris S Oct 13 '11 at 13:40
    
I don't want to get into the discussion whether or not this it is acceptable to bring down a website in order to do maintenance. But would it be possible to send an e-mail to the users instead of showing the information on the website itself? During the maintenance you could show a different homepage with a text "sorry we'll be back online in 30 minutes". –  Bart Gijssens Oct 13 '11 at 13:46
    
@Bagi unfortunately not, as not all customers allow their emails to be used (the DP act in the UK stops this). The maintenance is outside working hours but people are still using the service. –  Chris S Oct 13 '11 at 14:07

2 Answers 2

Speak to your customers like a human. Sounds obvious but so few websites do.

"We are trying to make this website better for you, but to do that we will have to shut it down for xx minutes this afternoon so that we can do the maintenance and upgrades.

We're sorry for the inconvenience. We will however do our best to get it up and running as soon as possible.

Thanks for your understanding"

It isn't a perfect message, but you need to show your customers what they are getting out of it.

Once the site is down, you can use a similar message in place of the site to let them know that it's down and why it is down.

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+1 for talking to humans. –  jberger Oct 13 '11 at 14:52
    
I think the first paragraph might be a little condescending (our audience are mostly 40+) but I like the idea. The main issue is the way to present the information though - e.g. modal dialogs, animated drop down banners, etc. –  Chris S Oct 14 '11 at 9:16

From my experience in the past we used a nice message styling that appeared on the top of every website page feed through a "message include". The message itself have a yellow background with a slight darker yellow/gold border with the same color used for text. We also used a small 16x16 wrench icon found in the FAMFAMFAM icon set. (sorry I don't have the ability to hand out a pic at the moment).

The icon help conveys that a maintenance event is about to happen and the include ensures that most frequent visitors with bookmarks other than the homepage receive the message. Once the site is down, if possible redirect users to a server that is up letting them know what is going on.

Hope this helps.

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I like the wrench icon idea. –  jberger Oct 13 '11 at 14:52

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