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In many applications, the first view a user will see is an empty view. A view with no data in it.

Let's say for example that we have a desktop project management application, then the first view would probably be an empty project list.

How should the empty view be designed for the best possible user experience? Can you list any examples of applications that get this right?

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There is an Empty States Tumblr blog/list listing lots of interesting empty views. –  Roger Attrill Feb 6 '13 at 12:01
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3 Answers

You need to make a distinction between the first view of an app, and a view where there's just no data to display.

When dealing with the first view scenario, that's a great opportunity to tell the user all those things you wish to tell him before he begins using your app. A welcome message, some tips and tricks (also provide a clear way of reaching them later, when the first-view screen is no longer available). Most importantly, tell the user how to proceed, e.g. in your example you can say something like "Press New project to get started". A graphic editor can say "Drag an image here to begin". Powerpoint says "Click to add title", and Prezi says something like "Click here to type". Provide a short, effective call to action that guides the user on his first use of the product.

In the second scenario you just need to make sure that the user understands that this is not a bug and there's no data to display. This is how MS Outlook does this:

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And this is how Gmail does it:

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I don't know whether Gmail still does this, but a while back, when you'd delete all your emails, it would say something like "Nothing to read here! Why don't you try out Google Reader and discover something interesting?". So it's also a great place to talk to the user and promote your goals.

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It is also not uncommon for the initial view to have a starting document loaded, which gives some pointers to how to progress - PowerPoint as an example. Mail applications often have introductory mail messages in them, to help you progress and, as importantly, to show you how the application will look when you are using it more. So the "blank start view" is evaded by having a populated start view.

I think the core reqirement of both initial and empty views - although in slightly different ways - is to provide a prompt to enable the user to do the next thing they need to do to make it not blank. If they are staring at a blank screen then there is something wrong, either the application is not giving them enough help to progress or they have just wiped everything out and don't know how to tell the boss.

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Just adding to what @SchroedingersCat mentioned - a lot of programming IDEs are really good at this: NetBeans Notice the highlighted activities, and that it restores whatever you had open last time you used the program (yes, I have a file named "Lolexcel.java" >_>....

You can see the same with Visual Studio: Visual Studio

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