1

Notification Badges are all over our mobile devices, all of the most common apps we use everyday have them. They keep us hooked onto an app and let us know when something new happens.

My question is about the effect on user engagement when numbering badges.

Is there any difference in user engagement between notification badges with numbers and badges without numbers?

And to a further extent what arguments are there for not using a numbered badge and instead just using a red badge without a number?

  • If anyone has an example of an app that DOESN'T use numbers in a notification badge then I'd love to see it. Even the software update on my phone has a '1' in the badge when there is never an instance where there is more than one update. – sclarke Aug 7 '18 at 14:05
  • @sclarke I think Android O OS doesn't use numbers. medium.com/exploring-android/… – RobbyReindeer Aug 8 '18 at 6:31
  • Interesting, I've always had Androids (the OS not my own CP-30 unfortunately). Maybe it's one of those situations where you see it so often you become blind. I'll dig deeper! – sclarke Aug 8 '18 at 7:44
4

User engagement is not always a good thing, since users may pick up negative feelings if we keep them hooked to an app with little to no value. Tristan Harris works with attention and ethical use of users' time. Here is a great article about it: Redesign Attention Economy.

In my opinion, numbers add urgency to the badge. They may modify user behaviour and add to stress levels by pushing users to pay constant attention to apps. Numbers act as a reminder of how many tasks need to be done. When doing testing designs with numbered badges, users often comment the need to "clean" badges, to tidy up after themselves. This may hurt their focus to their current workflow or task.

I realised some products are removing those numbers on badges. On my Android phone, I don't get the numbers anymore but just a simple badge. I don't know whether this is due to limiting space/clutter or to improve users' cognitive wellness. The way I see it is:

  • If we are talking about productivity apps that require the user to take instant action, numbers may make sense.
  • For most apps, just the badge will be enough. It may disrupt less users and be more protective of our short-span attention.
2

In my ideal world, you would let the user choose between no notification badges, a simple "on/off" badge1, or a numbered badge.

As Ainhoa Ostolaza's answer notes, numbers can "add urgency" to notifications. For some apps, for some people, that's good. For other apps, or for different people, that heightened sense of urgency is bad. As with many choices, it is very unlikely that there is a "one size fits all" answer, hence my preference for letting the user decide.

For example, the email app on my Android does show numbers, and I prefer that. In my case, the majority of emails come from a mailing list so unless I'm expecting an important email, if I'm "doing other things" (including doing something that's nothing to do with the phone), I will often ignore the notification until several emails have arrived and deal with them in one go (mostly just read-and-delete). Having a binary "you have an unspecified number of emails" badge wouldn't be as helpful.

On the other hand, if I was getting mostly work emails, that needed to be responded to "as soon as possible", then I wouldn't really need to see a count (the assumption being any email should trigger a response). In fact a count may be detrimental since if there was a reason I couldn't respond immediately, the count would only serve to increase stress from not being able to respond.

Similarly, there may be other apps where I really don't care whether "something new" has happened or not, so I would want to turn of badges altogether.


1 You mention "just using a red badge". There may be cases where graduated (but not numbered) badges could be useful: green for "something's new (but there's no urgency)" through to red for "deadline approaching" (subject to the usual caveats about relying on colour alone).

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