It seems to be more prevalent recently that a form or action that is deemed invalid will respond by shaking in horizontal "no" like animation. A simple example seen here:

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This can be seen in a lot of famous designs including MAC OS login, if the login fails the inputs are cleared and the form shakes like above. It is also not just limited to inputs/forms, on Facebook Mobile if you are on a persons profile and click on their name to go to the same profile the whole page shakes to signify you're already on that page.

But do users understand what this means?

Obviously it would be best if paired with red outlines or other error messages but in the Facebook example mentioned and other examples that are not inputs it does not.

  • Maybe to visually simulate a phone vibration ?
    – Max
    May 18 '16 at 19:32
  • I guess the question could also be asked whether there are examples of where a shaking behaviour indicates a 'yes' behaviour. If not then I guess people do assume or expect it to mean 'no'.
    – Michael Lai
    May 18 '16 at 23:00
  • @MichaelLai that is a good point, I'd wager there is no shaking that means yes, but I suppose it's also possible that even if every instance means no there simply isn't enough instances out there to have a common meaning
    – DasBeasto
    May 18 '16 at 23:03
  • @Max I like the idea that it simulates a phone vibration, in the sense that some attention is required from the user, without saying whether it is a positive or negative feedback. So in fact it might not be a shake to say 'no', but a shake to say 'do something'!
    – Michael Lai
    May 18 '16 at 23:17
  • 1
    I wonder whether there is meaning attached to the shaking action itself or if it's designed to serve more as a means to attract the user's attention to where an error occurred (without being as obtrustive as popping up a modal/alert dialog, e.g.)
    – dekaliber
    May 24 '16 at 17:38

I think this depends on the culture of your target users. For example, head shake means no in most countries, but in some it means yes.. To quote https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_shake :

Different cultures assign different meanings to the gesture.

I think because we associate shaking in the UI to head shake gesture, we think that users should associate shaking in the UI with 'no', but in some places we find head shake associated with yes also.

So I also agree with Sgiobair's answer, you need to add other means of notification.


I would love to see some references and studies here, but since I am not aware of any specific literature out there, I am happy to theorize and present a hypothetical breakdown of the factors:

  • Links to physical shaking: seems like there is no particular link to physical shaking because it is commonly used as a gesture to trigger an action for mobile phone apps. However, it might be seen as creating a signal that some attention is required from the user (i.e. when your phone shakes you should answer or ignore/reject the call).
  • Dependency on other cues: the question seems to suggest that shaking as a negative feedback works best when there are other supporting cues, whereas a shaking motion by itself can be ambiguous.
  • Type of interaction/behaviour: the question gives examples specific to a type of interaction (i.e. login), so in the context of user input the shaking behaviour can mean no, but this may not apply in other contexts.
  • Opposite meaning applied: I made a point in the comment that in the absence of any shaking motion that can be interpreted as a positive feedback, it would imply that it exists as a negative feedback only.

Like Michael I'd love to see some data as well. Speculating from my own perspective I would imaging there is a fine line and would depend on how the animation is implemented.

I would, and I expect a lot of people would, associate a 'buzz' with a negative response. We have all sorts of negative associations here 'angry buzzing', 'electrical buzz/zap', or 'alarm buzzers'. So visually I think a rapid back and forth shaking would be seen as a buzz and generally associated negatively. Although as Michael points out it can now also be seen as vibration like in mobile phones which is less likely to have negative connotations and more likely to mean pay attention. If I just yell "Hey, look at me" without giving any additional cues I'm going to confuse you.

Not all of these animations look like a 'buzz' though. The example you gave looks like a gentle shaking back and forth and the 3D aspect makes it look more like twisting than buzzing or vibrating. It could be seen as 'shaking your head no' but it's more subtle and possibly less clear.

The addition of other visual clues, or audible clues helps the situation but, it raises an important question about the whole practice.

Should we be using visual (or audible) cues alone? I would hate to see this show up in any sort of situation where accessibility is important (ALL OF THEM). How do you communicate to the deaf or blind user that the window shook. If they've never seen a head shake or a buzzer buzz would they even know what it was if they could tell?

So... tl/dr:

Look for research or more research needs to be done. Shaking probably works but should never be your only means of notification, especially when accessibility is involved.

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