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I am working on ux for a desktop application for users. I am looking to find out more information, answers, best practices when it comes to handling notifications of actions and other alerts within a desktop application. Obviously I have seen how StackExchange handles notifications but since this is a desktop application instead of web it is a question I wanted to source.

Included is an image in this post that will display the two options I have been looking at. Both options seem to be the most common display areas that I have researched as well as seen active in many other applications. Currently the standalone desktop application opens to the default 1024x768 size but also has the ability to be scaled fullscreen to any size window the user is using. What concerns me is when a user full screens the application to a size such as 2560x1440 and a notification displays I don't want them to miss this notification.

enter image description here

Option 1: In my mockup the notification bar alerts the user by sliding down from the top of the desktop application. The left and right arrows inside the notification represent the ability to scroll back or forward to previous notification messages. The notification would have a 4 Second display time before auto hiding or the user has the ability to click X to close. Note: This notification would cover the top menu navigation bar when sliding down.

Option 2: In my mockup the notification bar alerts the user by sliding up from the bottom right of the desktop application. The left and right arrows inside the notification represent the ability to scroll back or forward to previous notification messages. The notification would have a 4 Second display time before auto hiding or the user has the ability to click X to close. Note: This notification would cover only minimal content display.

So my questions:

  1. Are the options I am displaying the best solutions for users to see the notification without covering up to much content and ruining the experience?
  2. Is one option losing the users vision over the other?
  3. Would there be better areas or ways to handle these notifications in a desktop application that I am missing?
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1 Answer

Do not prevent the user from accomplishing additional work when the notification displays; top bar notifications should displace the existing UI rather than obscure it. This is how Internet Explorer displays optional notifications.

And when I say 'optional' I mean that there is a valid use-case where you ignore the error and continue. If your error message does not have a common, valid use case of 'ignore', then you should be using a modal dialog that halts interaction. People ignore notifications all the time. In fact, people often don't see the IE notification bar at all, or do not realize that it is a relevant contextual warning about their current task (they think it is some generic or general note).

Localizing notifications as close to the relevant UI is important. For example, when you have a bad form entry you need to put the warning right next to the relevant field; you should not have a generic error for the entire form.

Notifications should also have contextual actions that help you deal with the issue... for example, in IE you can click the error to allow a popup or install a plugin. The solution is right on the notification. Clicking on the email notification for Outlook brings up the relevant email. In Valve's Steam application, clicking a notification brings up the user or the message you were notified about.

So the answer as to how to deal with your notifications is: it depends.

  • Halting errors shouldn't be notifications; they should be modal dialogs, and they should be rare.
  • Notifications should be localized to where you can solve the issue, or the notification itself should allow you to handle it.
  • Notifications should not obscure the UI they should displace it, unless they are transient and not covering up anything important.

Good notifications are difficult. They need to be blatant enough that people don't miss them, but not so much in the way that the user cannot continue on when they occur (or they learn to eliminate the note instantly without even reading it). This is a nearly impossible task, and I have not seen a good solution yet.

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"top bar notifications should displace the existing UI rather than obscure it." I don't think it's so clear-cut. Shifting UI elements (which you suggest) adversely impacts the user experience than obscuring a small section of it. When you're shifting, you're affecting the entire document, whereas when you're obscuring you're only affecting a small portion that is away from the center. –  Phong May 9 '12 at 18:06
    
That depends on how you shift. For example, the image the question displays demonstrates a top content bar getting obscured... nearly half of the available area in fact. I think most users will have a significantly better experience if this top section were pushed down at the expense of the top couple lines of the primary content window. –  Myrddin Emrys May 9 '12 at 18:33
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