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Here is screenshot of some Dropbox folder: enter image description here

I'm working on implementing a web-interface for cloud data storage, so Dropbox is one of my sources of inspiration. My question is - why should we try to show green checkboxes. Aren't they redundant, not to say annoying? I mean, these checkboxes indicate that everything is synced and up-to-date. And this is the most common state of files. And we should also keep in mind the fact that there is another visual hint for indicating syncing event, as well as error event.

So, should we bother about separate visualization hint of state which is actual default state.

UPD: Let me state it in more abstract and clear way. If we have N states, and N - 1 of these states happens rarer then Nth one, can we consider that the lack of any hints itself is an indicator that we are in Nth state.

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

First of all, redundant is not bad in UI design. Stuff should be where users might be looking for them, not the other way around. Sometimes you'll have to put an element on several places just to make sure users won't miss it.

Now, to your question. The first rule in Jakon Nielsen's 10 Usability Heuristics is visibility of system status:

The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.

Users should be able to immediately tell if everything's OK, or if there's something wrong.

Cloud storage is still like "black magic" by many many computer users (some are still struggling with understanding local storage). If the service you're offering is of file syncing, and you want users to be sure that their files are synchronized at any given moment, you have to supply some sort of indication that the files are in fact synchronized. Otherwise, users can get easily confused and unsure, asking themselves: are the files synchronized now or not? Remember, you're in the business of back-up. You want to help your users relax and trust you with their files. The small green "V" on files Dropbox has completed syncing re-assures the user everything's fine. You should use some kind of indication as well.

This is very similar to auto-save notifications on web applications, such as Google Docs. "Saved" is the default system status, but because most users of these products have migrated from local storage based desktop applications, they constantly need reassurance that their files are saved (even though they didn't have to manually do it!).

"All changes saved" on Google Docs

Of course you don't have to use these green ticks like Dropbox. Just make sure that you test whatever metaphor you use on your target users to make sure they create the effect you're looking for.

As cloud storage becomes more and more ubiquitous, and people stop using local storage, this might change.

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But there is a separate hint for error state and a separate hint for sync state. I'm not arguing with base concept - "The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time." It's just that - why don't we consider an icon without error and sync hints exactly "everything goes pretty well message". I mean, if there are N states, and N - 1 states (which actually happen rarer) why should be try to indicate the Nth state. – shabunc Mar 30 '12 at 16:46
Though still see no reason not to have default iconless state, I do realize that this is a good answer, so let it be the final one. – shabunc Apr 17 '12 at 14:29

You're confused because you're looking at the wrong part of Dropbox's interface.

The checkmark icons are present only when looking at the local storage. In this situation, they have an important role because, technically, you aren't interfacing with Dropbox itself but with regular folder & files on your computer. The icons are a reminder that this is in fact a Dropbox folder and the files are synced or syncing to the cloud storage (or there's an error syncing). However, when you're working with Dropbox's web interface, there're no secondary indicators of state: the files are either available online or not available online.

This means that local files have 4 states (present & not uploaded, uploading, uploaded, and error) while online files have only 2 states (present and absent). As a result, only local files need multiple indicators of state. Note: although it's possible to add files through the web interface, the procedure is achieved via a dialog with its own status indicator.

So if content in your system has different states, your status indicators should be different.

enter image description here

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It's a nice and valuable answer, thank you. I'm not confused, though. Indeed, this is screenshot of web app and yes, there exists a web interface as well. But technically my interface is exactly about the same think as Dropbox's desktop one. Since there is such thing as syncing this very instance with (well, it's complicated but let us name it this way) cloud. – shabunc Mar 30 '12 at 14:55
@shabunc: "Confused" as in you don't understand why Dropbox shows the green checkmarks when everything is synced. You're still missing an important part of Dropbox's architecture: the central location is the cloud not local storage. Thus, there's no need to indicate whether a file/folder is synced to any clients - only local storage needs that indicator. – dnbrv Mar 30 '12 at 15:29
I completely understand it. All I want to say is that our application has a bit different logic and in web app you can see exactly the same output (in ideological sense) you can see in Desktop Dropdown folder - thus, it's need to be synced. Besides, even disregarding that fact - the question was about do we need such hints whenever we need syncing. So I confused why you are confused))) – shabunc Mar 30 '12 at 16:24
@shabunc: See the paragraph I've just added to the answer. – dnbrv Mar 30 '12 at 16:36
upvoted back)))) – shabunc Mar 30 '12 at 16:47

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