I am designing a clinical application which displays a list of potential actions for clinicians to take ranked by their appropriateness to the clinical scenario (i.e., it looks like Google). Occasionally, there will also be a context-dependent "recommendation" which would normally supersede the list of potential actions. When this recommendation is present, we expect that clinicians will usually follow it, when it is not, we expect that they will select one of the actions in the list.

I am concerned about the cases where a user sees and follows the "recommendation" in one session, then later begins a new session where the recommendation is not displayed (because no recommendation exists given the scenario). My sense is that this will confuse the user who previously relied on the recommendation to make a decision.

One possibility might be to display a generic "pick one of the following actions" recommendation when there is no specific recommendation available, but then my concern would be "alert fatigue"--that the clinician would not notice when the generic recommendation was replaced by a specific recommendation.

Are there any relevant patterns I might take a look at or literature on the subject? I think this problem maps somewhat closely to "weather alerts", except that the user is always expected to take some action based on the results provided.

Also, what do I call this? I've been using the term "occasional UI" but that's clearly not the term of art.

Edit: To clarify a few things, the UI pattern we're using is what Mervin describes as an overlay. Here's a rough sketch of how it looks:

enter image description here

I apologize that I can't be more specific. The user arrives at this page by entering some clinical information and clicking get recommendations, thus the recommendations only appear due to some user action. For various clinical reasons, the list of options must always be displayed. My question is what to do about the box that says "Hey, do this instead" (i.e., the recommendation overlay), with the options being (a) a generic pick one of the following list or (b) nothing. I think each of these has pros and cons, I'm just wondering if there are best practices (outlined above) or research into this area I might look at.

2 Answers 2


Its going to be hard to answer this question unless I see a screenshot or design since the eventual design of your recommendation pane will depend upon your screen design. However there are a number of ways you could potentially inform a user that a recommendation is available

  1. Provide a recommendation overlay which can be dismissed. An excellent example of this is how stackoverflow gives a notification when it wants to draw attention to content which is important but can also be dismissed.

enter image description here

  1. Create a recommendation tab or icon which has an associated notification with it which informs the user that an recommendation is available. An excellent example of that is the notification system followed by Facebook as shown below

enter image description here

  1. If you do have to show the recommendations at all times, an approach you can potentially take is to show the recommendation as a callout in the page and provide a default message when there is no recommendation.

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  • OK, I edited my post to better reflect what I mean. I'm sorry the sketch is rough; I'm not able to share screenshots. We're using the recommendation overlay and the question I have is what to do when there's nothing there. Feb 25, 2013 at 19:48
  • Thanks for your help. Do you have any sense of when a default message might be preferred over nothing? I'm definitely leaning towards doing as you indicate, but I'm worried about alert fatigue. What is a good practice to combat this? I noticed you changed the color in the "default recommendation", what else might be good here? Feb 25, 2013 at 20:34

I agree that it's a bit tough in this situation without screenshots, but here are a couple of options that came to mind.

  1. Indicate with color and a bit of styling enter image description here

  2. Indicate with headings. I'm not sure what your second heading would be, as I don't have the exact context, but this option would also allow for multiple recommendations if your application allows it. If not, then it's always something to think of for the future. enter image description here

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