My first ever question on UX. The problem is with a desktop web app, it currently plays host to an "activity" ticker (where activities of other users and self are displayed in a cubic spin animation at the bottom of the page) and the introduction of a new notifications panel as seen on IOS and Android operating systems (on the top of the page)

The application has quite a few hurdles:

  1. A header on tables that dock to the top of the page when a user scrolls
  2. The activity notification area expands into a table that shows past activity in chronological order (recent to old)
  3. The activity notification is a crucial part of the app, since it shows what the other users are doing eg. *user_name has removed feature X from the application, user_name has initiated a new build, You have banned user_name from xxxx to yyyy, etc.*

I've decided to redesign the existing activity notification area while designing the new notification area and fit all notifications received by the application into one panel, primary to avoid end up having notifications saying "your xx-notification area has new notifications" or "user_name is viewing notifications.

Should I focus on existing patterns and improvise on that or can I force my users into something new?

  • i struggle to see the difference between event and activity having read the question. An activity stream is a stream of events triggered by a set of actors ?
    – Toni Leigh
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 18:29
  • A screenshot will definitely help people to answer the question better, since there appears to be some visual design factors that may influence the usability as well.
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 23:24
  • I will include a screen & mock up with examples in my original post shortly.
    – Rayraegah
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 5:24
  • @ColinSharpe - Activity stream here is a set of events triggered by actors, while the Event stream is associated with application's event such as connectivity to the servers, failure to process an automation request, log creation etc.
    – Rayraegah
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 5:27
  • it is possible to look at the two things as essentially the same, one with human actors and one with the server / system as an actor, but I take your point
    – Toni Leigh
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 8:31

1 Answer 1


I think there are a few things you can do to improve this within the activity stream itself (examples loosely based on sharing amongst users, but the principles are the same):

  1. Group notifications together by type and time then output one item to the activity stream. So a user adds 20 pictures, that would be one notification 'X added 20 pictures'. This saves pushing too much to the user and means they can assess a wider range of activity and time-scale in one go.

  2. Remove unnecessary notifications, for example, do users really need to know that X is looking at her notifications? Or that the server just did Y? Likewise, with the previous example, you might have the notification 'X created and added to album Y', which would make any immediately following and related notifications of picture adding unnecessary.

  3. Visually differentiate your notifications, so if pics are uploaded show a thumbnail, if a favourite user does something mark it (not just with colour though - check accessibility guidelines)

  4. Get rid of the ticker. Visually moving elements are distracting and you can never be sure how fast your user can read.

You can also differentiate the systems handling of new events based on importance and let the user choose what is important. for example:

  • X might decide that messages from Y are very important, so you'd make the application ping and maybe send an email.
  • X might decide that pics are not so important, so all that happens is there is a visual notification on sign in or during application use.
  • X might decide that server updates are not important, so they are hidden and no notification is given.
  • Some notifications might be critical and told to users regardless (a warning possible restriction for misuse is a good example)
  • ADDED: You might also make some notifications persist until the user has performed some action, useful for critical events.

You can probably learn a lot by looking at how big social networks and other sites with streams of events handle the output of activity streams. It's a very tricky thing to code though (I've tried) so be prepared to find a top developer and for some time on Stack Overflow!

  • "Visually differentiate your notifications" - That's a very good point I missed out on. Your reply helped, as for the development part... I'm a programmer got that covered xD
    – Rayraegah
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 8:33

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