Some pre-clarifications:

  • By floating animated messages I mean the Firefox style messages usually appearing bottom right of the window, for example, when a file downloaded successfully.
  • By confirmation message I mean the modal messages where you have to click Ok / Yes / No / Cancel. My question relates to the specific case where user gets a single Ok option, which dismisses the message on click.

My question is when should we prefer the one over the other?

Generally it seems that the floating notification message is softly grabbing the user attention w/o the brutality of its modal counterpart. However, I see no point of using it when we know that its context is of the current focus of the user. Your comments on this please.

This leads me to my second question: I am working on a desktop application where you can open multiple frames which are hiding each other. The current state is that a confirmation message for a frame which is not in focus (i.e. on top) is nevertheless showing on top of the current frame.

Should one naturally use the floating message whenever trying to show a confirmation message for a not-in-focus frame?

2 Answers 2


I think fading out the message is applicable when the message is just "informational" and the user could just as well carry on without having specifically read the message.

e.g. "Your Tweet was sent successfully", "3 messages deleted"

However if the user will want to very potentially want to interact with the message/want to read it fully I'd suggest a button to dismiss (or a countdown timer before it auto-dismisses)

e.g. "CoolSong.mp3 downloaded! [Play] / [Open Folder]", "4 errors found with the import file! [View Details]"

  • I think you answer "When should one fade a floating message?". My question is when should I use floating message over modal confirmation message (and vice versa)? I will edit my question to be more clear about that.
    – Assimiz
    Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 14:24
  • 1
    Thanks @Assimiz I think the fundamentals of the answer still apply. You can use a "toast" (as it is often called) to show information that effectively "doesn't matter too much". However if you need to ensure the users see something and confirm that they've either seen it (and/or) what they want to do with it, then you need a modal dialog.
    – scunliffe
    Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 14:44

@Scunliffe has already answered the first question.

This is my take on the 2nd.

First, you should decide if a modal window is required if the only action the user has to take is to click "Ok"

The same guidelines from Scunliffe apply. If the message for each frame is just an information the user should read, make it a toaster. This pattern can be seen in MS Outlook. "New message received" notifications just appear even when we are working on another application or the focus is on another window.

But, if the message requires confirmation from the user to proceed further on a task, make it a modal window. A toaster does not work here as it will confuse the user when many frames are open. The usual design pattern used is to highlight the frame that has the confirmation message. You can highlight it in different ways - Make it blink or change color or provide a notification counter on the header.

When the user now clicks on the frame, the confirmation message should be shown. This way the users can relate which message belongs to which frame. This works when at least a clickable portion of each frame is visible. But, if each frame is completely hidden, it is best to go for a separate notifications pane.

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