With our app, there's currently a list of notification icons in the left side of the page. This are to alert you to events or things to do (e.g. you haven't contacted customer x for 30 days, you have 3 orders to update).

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(click on image to view full size)

The app is a pretty complex ERP system, so there's always a lot happening on the page. Normally I don't like hiding elements on the page, unless it's obvious why they're hidden. However, these empty notifications don't do anything (i.e. clicking on an inactive icon does nothing). I have two thoughts on how to progress.

Hide the icons

First, just hide the inactive icons. It will help remove some unnecessary elements, hopefully adding clarity / focus to the page.

enter image description here

(click on image to view full size)

Have a blank slate for the icons

If there's nothing to notify the user, it would be an opportunity to provide a nice blank slate. For example, for the inactive order icons, it use the pop out menu to talk about how orders work and a link to create your first order. Obviously, this is really only useful for new users to the system. It won't have any benefit for expert users.

  • +1 it's an interesting question. you could also check this question where a similar scenario is discussed. Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 10:56

4 Answers 4


I'm a bit concerned with the hiding approach, or disabling notification icons altogether. what if a user wants to revisit a notification they've already viewed once to refresh their memory, or to show another user? Will the notification (data) still be easily accessible once the icon is removed? I would think twice before disabling items, let alone removing them, in a menu bar that holds records of the system. It could disrupt the natural user workflow as it could easily make the system being perceived as inconsistent.

I would settle with having a fix number of icons that links the user to each type of system record. And clearly show, as you do in your images, when there is some new data for the user to view.


Your entire issue is based on the placement of the badges in your layout. Change, the layout and solve the problem.

  1. The badges are stealing precious real estate that that massive table is begging for. That table is forever losing 40px of footprint right to the bottom. Even if one icon is there. (what if none are there because you hide them??)

  2. In the vertical layout, the icons feel more like a toolbar than a badge farm. Subsequently, hiding them and removing them seems to have more of a confusing impact.

Here is my suggestion. Move them to the empty, eye-catching and prominent space next to the title. They work there whether you hide them or not. I say keep them but here are both options.

With Without

Note, I don't know what the star and plus icon do so I stuffed them over to the right with the other actions. Maybe they belong with the others.

I hope this helps.


I don't know if this approach would work in your environment, but couldn't you anyway bundle all the different notifications under one icon and just show them on click?

Rough sketch of the collapsed state:

enter image description here

So if you click on the exclamation mark, all the different notification icons would slide down, making it unnecessary to hide some of them if they are inactive, which might be troubling users (I think just removing the icons would leave them puzzled)

And with the space gained, you could still display some sort of help below the general notification button.

There are two felt drawbacks to this: The notifications are one click further away, but this should not be an issue. The other is that you have to click on the general notification button to see specific notifications.

On the other hand, seeing if you have notifications at all will become less complex.


Hiding and disabling Icons is a big no for me. You said its a complex ERP system and I understand that these will be used by some experts.

Problem when you hide the icon is that they will not be able to remember the placement of such icon. If suddenly icon 2 is hidden then the series will become 1 and then 3. This is a very frustrating scenario for any user where they always have to educate them self where they want to click.

As far as Disabling is concerned that every don't make sense as a user can always like to revisit the notification to see what he just read sometime back. For me the best approach will be to have the notification enabled every time with last 5-6 notifications displayed. New notifications can be shown with numbers as you have now and if possible displaying a new icon next to the notification in the call out. Once the notification is visited, I will remove the numbers from the visible icon to show that it is already visited but now the user can still go inside and see what the last notifications were.

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