• “Your virus database has been updated.”
  • “Your plugin is up to date.” (major software vendor)
  • ...

I’ve noticed that a few software programs like to notify that “everything is okay”. Notifying the user after his action is perfectly okay since he is expecting some sort of feedback. But are unasked (or should I call them unexpected) notifications necessary?

I presume these boxes are nothing more but waving indicators trying to enhance their UX: “Hello. I am here. Remember me? I’m on your system! Don’t forget me! I am great! I do everything by my self! I’m taking care of you!” Since these notifications create additional costs to design, program and maintain I deduce that they are deliberately wanted.

Can you back me up with some hard facts telling me that we also have to implement (for me annoying) notifications in our software? Do they enhance the experience in some way that justifies their existence?

  • uTorrent has a green connection icon in the status bar to indicate that connections work as intended. It doesn't mean that there are current uploads or downloads, but it tells that they'll be fine should they be scheduled. Jan 25, 2014 at 16:39

3 Answers 3


You've stumbled across an 'age old' question of feedback

Do we provide feedback if an action completes as it should, or only if it fails? In reality this is often not a user experience question but business decision 'from above'. I expect in the anti-virus example above it is just to remind the user of the product/company and so they think "oh yeah that's doing something great".

In the last decade systems have moved away from pop ups of any kind (windows pop up, web page pop up, tray pop ups etc) as users simple don't like them, there main disadvantage being that they break the flow of users actions. Like when watching a film on full screen and up pops Java updater...

If you need to convey something to the user then think:

  1. Did they manually initiate the action which I'm giving feed back on? (clicking delete)
  2. Did an action complete which they indirectly actioned (scheduled back up, virus scan, etc).
  3. Do they need to act on this information
  4. Do they Have to act on this information

If 2 then feedback should be as unobtrusive as possible, maybe a task bar item pulses a certain colour or small sound is played If 3, give them the option to interact, but unobtrusively (like a small task bar pop up, that disappears after a minute) If 4, present a ui that doesn't go away, or even.... a popup dialog that blocks everything else...

  • 1
    +1. To add to that, sometimes it makes a lot of sense to do things silently. I love Chrome's update mechanism, for example. It keeps itself up-to-date without ever notifying/annoying you about it. Jan 26, 2014 at 0:08
  • 1
    I know how and when to implement notifications. My question was: If users don't like unexpected popups, what makes business people decide to force-implement them anyway? Are these just bad business decisions? Or do these decisions base on reliable data, usability tests etc.?
    – uxfelix
    Jan 26, 2014 at 10:52
  • @ uxfelix In an ideal world the designer can make an amazing product with perfect usability, in practise your boss expects your product to make a return so ramming ads down your uesrs throat, reinforcing branding, and making the user download the latest version udpate are all - despite being usability problems - valid design decisions.
    – S..
    Jan 26, 2014 at 15:33
  • @ Steve, absolutely. It took me a couple of years to realise my chrome had ever been updated.
    – S..
    Jan 26, 2014 at 19:44
  • @Sam if only our operating systems were that way... Jan 27, 2014 at 16:23

Agree with the "Feedback" answer from Sam

Additionally the question could implicitly cover the case where a user has desire to feel confident about the current state of a system, even if no new event has occurred. Why? Well a user could believe that events they did not (knowingly) trigger may have occurred

For example computers seem to catch viruses "out of the blue" (sometimes even true). Any potential for uncertainty is exacerbated by adverts proclaiming "YOUR computer is not protected!!!" or the like.

So there is an understandable need for a user to have high degree of confidence about the actual current state of their system. For semi-IT-literate users, when it comes to something as scary as a "virus" then how much cosseting and reassurance is the "right thing to do"?

An example is the dropbox desktop client. Someone else may change a file - do I have the latest copy? A tiny green tick on the dropbox service icon provides this information for me - but it may be too subtle for others.

Appropriate messaging depends on the audience, especially where an emotional effect is desired.


Although I agree with Sam and Jayfrang, I believe the examples stated in the question are not simply providing feedback, but to reinforce to the user that the software is doing something useful in the background.

For instance, messages like:

  • Your virus database was updated
  • Your plug-in is updated

Are usually displayed by software that tends to run on the background and typically:

  1. Doesn't frequently require the users attention (e.g. anti-virus)
  2. The user does not start the interaction, instead the system prompts the user to take an action (e.g. anti-virus)
  3. There are no changes to the UI, so even with updates the user thinks nothing is changed (e.g. adobe acrobat reader)

This means that you can install the software and forget that it is there doing something for you. So users will start wondering if the software is really doing something useful or just doing nothing at all. So you need to constantly remind users that your software is there, is doing useful stuff, but just doesn't need the user to babysit it.

That's why you frequently see in software with the above mentioned characteristics, these kinds of messages. It is one of the ways you can use to show the value of your product.

Other way is to display metrics of the work accomplished so far, like "We detected and terminated 50 potential threats since you installed your software".

  • I'd much prefer the latter. It's less obnoxious and when a virus checker tells me I'm still working! I feel she doth protest too much. Jan 27, 2014 at 18:09

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