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We have been working on developing a web application and I am currently researching best practice for user prompts notifications. We are currently using standard system notifications which work well but the issue I have with this is when a user is notified that an operation was successful the user has to click the ok button to progress. This can become very irritating if the user has to repeat an action many times.

My question is this, what is the best way to notify users? To let them know an action was successful and they can move on? I googled "prompts" but can not find anything that seems really cool/cutting edge.

Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

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5 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I take the approach where I ask myself a few questions before I decide what to do.

  • Do I need to notify before the user can continue?

You will find that there are very few times where the user actually needs to stop and wait for notification before continuing. This means that most of the time you should be able to do the work in the background (background thread or other async method). Note that this really applies to actions or operations where the "work" isn't visible, IOW it doesn't apply to situations like spell-checking a document or applying effects to an image because they can physically see what is going on so shouldn't usually need a notification.

  • Do I really need to notify the user?

You should consider whether the user even really needs the notification. Have they just triggered a routine operation which the can reasonably expect to never fail (like saving a document)? If so then it is pointless notifying every time they perform the action, instead you should only notify when the action/operation doesn't succeed.

  • How should I notify?

If it is an important notification, or contains results the user will be most likely to want to see each time, then put the notification front and centre. If it is just a feel-good notification (like "Action xyz succeeded") then put it out of the way, the user knows where to find it if they really want to see it.

  • Should I prompt or notify?

If your code cannot reasonably make a decision based on the context of the user's actions so you actually need to ask the user what to do, or if they are about to make irreversible changes, or they need to be presented with results, then prompt. Otherwise notify (if you must, subject to the top two questions).

Basically, I try to stay out of the user's way. They don't want a "Hey, you saved the document!" prompt every time they press Ctrl-S. They don't want a "Are you really sure?" prompt when they perform the same action for the hundredth time that day (and it's only Monday.....arghhh!!). Of course if you try hard enough you will always be able to find tricky little edge cases that these questions don't help with, but they do me right most of the time.

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Thank you slugster. Great advice! –  Rup Oct 15 '11 at 7:44
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Prompting is different from notifying. It's not clear which one you mean. If you want to notify the user of something then there are plenty of methods. Temporary banners at the top of the screen, a-la StackExchange, for one. But prompting usually means you need input from the user, and here it really depends on the kind of input. If it's just an Ok then that's what popup alerts are for.

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Thank you. It is more notifications. Thank you for clearing that up. I will do some research re notifications! Great answer! –  Rup Oct 14 '11 at 20:08
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|You can just progress to the next state automatically in application, with a notification in addition to that.

Avoid 'prompts' (alerts) whenever possible. The best notification system I can think of is Facebook (apart from the emails). Show a red number on a meaningful icon. When a user clicks on the icon, show a list of all notifications and clear the red number.

I think that's better than the SE notifications because on Facebook, the icon doesn't change meaning, while on SE the global inbox gets replaced with the 'hot questions'.

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Avoid 'prompts' (alerts) whenever possible. The best notification system I can think of is Facebook (apart from the emails). Show a red number on a meaningful icon. When a user clicks on the icon, show a list of all notifications and clear the red number.

I think that's better than the SE notifications because on Facebook, the icon doesn't change meaning, while on SE the global inbox gets replaced with the 'hot questions'.

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I am not sure there is a need to pause the whole user flow just to press ok if successful. You can just progress to the next state automatically in application, with a notification in addition to that.

e.g. sending a mail in gmail, it gives you a notification that mail has been sent, and it also gives you "undo" option in that notification.

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