I would like to show a small, temporary pop-up alert to the user when they click on certain elements, e.g. a button that is disabled. What is the optimal amount of time to show a short message (2-10 words) to ensure that it can be read by most people before removing it? The message won't contain anything too complex and can be re-triggered if necessary.

My initial opinion after some brief experimentation is to show it for 1 second and fade away over a half second, but I suspect there might be a better rule-of-thumb - or even some research - on this subject.

  • 1
    Long enough to read it. Commented May 6, 2015 at 20:53

2 Answers 2


1 sec for every four words

Like Michael Lai already pointed out the three guidelines, I could suggest that you keep 1 sec for every four words present in the message.

That's the speed an average person's eye can capture and the brain can grasp.

So you can have minimum of 1 second. And for bigger lines of text, you can calculate no of words present and give the timeout.

Or you can calculate it based on characters as well!!

  • Do you have references / research for "the speed an average person's eye can capture and the brain can grasp."?
    – Luke
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 14:20
  • Me and a group of UI developers(4 more) did this personally and 4 words per second was the average. Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 14:26

I think it is fair to say that the answer really depends, but the elements that will allow to make some choices and decisions in the design comes down to these things:

  1. How easy is it for the person to spot it? That is, have you designed the alert message so that it is noticeable enough without being in their face (unless that was your purpose).
  2. How much information is there to absorb? That is, have you given the user enough time to read and understand everything that is on there.
  3. How important is it for them to action it? That is, if it is important and requires user intervention, have you given them enough time to make a decision and act on it.

The important question to ask before that is whether a temporary message is the best option, and whether it then collapses into a notification or somewhere else that the user can retrieve the message or information later on.

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