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I am having some problems with a notification popup system (for web and app) - which has some big challenges:

  • A lot of text to display, like 340 characters, or 50 words. People from the legal department write them, so the wording is not user-friendly or succinct.
  • They are stand-alone, meaning I cannot link them to the general notification system from the app
  • Sometimes we have 2 popups simultaneously, and they make the experience very hard for the user, blocking the screen and showing on each login.

The messages are regarding a new product category, a new pricing model, the program in the holiday season, and things like that. Do you have any suggestions for me or examples from other platforms? Should I tell the developers to limit the character count, what else could I do?

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    We need more context. You say the text is provided by the legal team, which makes me think you can't just write a shorter line and then show the entire thing as an optional detailed description. If they are stand alone, how much control do you have over them? Commented Feb 9 at 13:57
  • @Parrotmaster the text could be shortened, they write things like "We would like to inform you that starting this year..." when they could just get to the point. The messages are regarding a new product category, a new pricing model, the program in the holiday season, and things like that. They have to be in the form of a pop-up, not inserted somewhere on the page, for example. The pop-up itself can be designed in any way, I don't think we have any restrictions. Thanks! Commented Feb 9 at 16:34
  • Legal requirements break UX. Ever heard of a CEO fastlane in product development: That typically ignores UX too. To be honest nobody expects that legal text are cool. Typically just lawyers read ToS and privacy notices. The everage user just looks for the accept/next buttons and/or check marks to get to the next step. Your task is it to let the user find those quickly ;-)
    – rekire
    Commented Feb 9 at 21:45
  • Can you explain the link to the login process and the second popup? I still don't understand the problem (except for the legalese, which always is a problem). Commented Feb 14 at 9:19

1 Answer 1

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Ah, the legal department. Second only to the IT security department in thinking all problems can be solved by popups.

The key question is:

A. Does successfully understanding the popup content have a functional impact on what the user will do? That is, is there really anything important the users need to know?

B. Or is this just legal technicalities that users don’t really care about? Or users already know, can guess, or will find out otherwise anyway? Or, even after understanding it, the users overwhelming act the same way towards the site as they would otherwise? Or, given how it has to be written, users generally wouldn’t understand it enough to affect their actions?

B. It’s Cruft

If the answer is some variation of B, the popup is useless UI cruft, like boilerplate they make you put at the bottom of the page. Fortunately for you, people expect popups to contain useless UI cruft (because usually they are exactly that) and have developed excellent popup killing reflexes.

Your design task is to take advantage of those reflexes and make the popup as easy and quick to dismiss as possible. Make it look as ordinary and boring:

  • Show the text in a paragraph as ordinary uniform regular-sized font.
  • Include no icons, graphics, or other imagery.
  • If there’s more than one message, see if you can include them on a single popup. Support one-tap ignoring.
  • Make sure it has a consistent appearance and pops up in the same place each time it appears. Repeat users will learn to expect it and even pre-position their finger tip to where the OK button will appear.
  • If this is also used on a laptop or desktop, make it dismissable with the Esc, Enter and space bar keys.
  • Look into common pop-up blockers, and make sure yours is “pop-up-blocker friendly.”
  • Most important, show an extra-big heavy-bordered prominently colored OK button.
  • Bonus: In a line by itself below the text and above the OK button, include “—The X Legal Dept.” Anything on a product signed by the legal department is surely ignorable.

If legal says you can’t so obviously sabotage it, then do the opposite. Give it big red text and animated icons and lots of exclamation marks. In other words, make it look like an irrelevant (and highly suspect) advertisement, which users will also instantly dismiss.

Or make it look like those stupid “Complete Our Survey!” popups so many web sites inflict on users before they even use the web site and have anything to survey about. Tap.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter much what you do. That popup is toast. Some users are so good at dismissing popups they don’t even know they do it.

A. It’s Important

If the popups actually include useful info for a fair portion of users, you have a bigger challenge. You have to accept that users are going to dismiss them in 500 ms. You have that much time to get the message across or at least catch enough of the users’ attention so they might pause to skim the text.

  • Yes, ditch as much excess words as possible and get to the point. Get rid of “We would like to inform you that” (you’re doing a bad job of it) and “To ensure the best experience for you” (it doesn’t) and “We are committed to [blah blah blah]” (don’t care about you).
  • I mean really ditch any unnecessary words. Shorten the text as much as possible. Make it brutally terse, like a newspaper headline. Be rude. If you want a numeric limit, I’d say three words –what can be read while simultaneously tapping the OK button. Realistically, the shorter the better.
  • Use clear plain language as much as legal allows.
  • Break up the text spatially into separate information chunks. Consider bullets.
  • Make a few key words or phrases bold. Choose words that tell users if text concerns something they care about. What can they read at a glance that will show them the message is relevant to them?
  • Consider a unique image for each message to show the topic at a glance. New product category? Show a photo of an exemplar item from that category.
  • Date it at the top so users know when the message has changed.

Of course you can do all the above and most users will still dismiss it without reading it. Just not quite as many. So you must also make the same information available by some better means. Include it as links in the general notification system in addition to the popups (if possible). Include links or static text within the site/app pages where users are likely to need the information (e.g., info about the new pricing model next to where the price quote appears).

If legal refuses to let you include the information anywhere else, explain to them that the best way to make sure no one reads text is to put it in a popup. If they don't believe you, show them a video of a couple users from a usability test instantly killing the popup in the prototype. Is that what they want?

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