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Notifications are incessant & does not serve the purpose designers think it should.
This is of no surprise that there is an app for everything. If it can be done online, there is app for it. If there is an app for it there are multiple notifications from each one trying to grab your attention.
Notification has become a fish market where everyone is shouting at you for attention and you end up not paying attention to anything at all.
There are so many applications which will manage your notifications and silent your phone (oh! the irony). Also sometimes prevent you to open applications so you don’t get distracted if you have set your mind to finish off a task. And then there are ways in which you can manually silent notifications of each app (which is painful).
I wanted to discuss how to design apps which are notifications free but still get the job done. I know more attention = more profits, so the questions is
Is notification the only attention seeking design we can come up with?
If we don’t think fast, we will be silenced forever by the users from the help of those apps which silences all notifications and then we will be left powerless, not having any way to seek attention. (assuming we all want attention)
History of notifications
When there were no smartphones the machines notified us with blinking lights and then some noises with blinking lights were introduced. Blinking lights only could fit certain amount of information in different patterns in which it could blink.
After that computers alerts or flags were introduced. these were muted notifications which used to signify if the user has revived new email. It was silent, so one could see it only when they opened up computers. Then, in the 1990s and early 2000s, notifications like pulsing BlackBerry LEDs and “You’ve got mail!” were shoved into the forefront of our collective consciousness. Eventually, those became the icons, banners, and badges that litter our smartphones today.
Here is a video if you would like to deep dove into notifications history-
Matías Duarte Lead designer at Google is one of the very first designers who were designing new ways of notifying the users if something important happened online. But his initial ideas included only a few applications which could beep you and also there were timelines designed with different hour gaps so people are not bothered by it.
“People are using more technology in different ways, much more intimately throughout all aspects of their lives. And we just need to invent new technologies and invent new social conventions to deal with that.” MATÍAS DUARTE
But he mentions technology is two edged sword, what seemed revolutionary at that time has become a headache now. We might need new and better Technology to deal with existing technology. (I know!!) . We think it is obvious, when technology is the problem we just step away from it, get de-addicted, delete applications, etc. But cutting ourselves from technology can be helpful sometimes and annoying sometimes will never be the solution. We will always bounce back to it.
How big is the problem?
Larry Rosen, one of the co-authors of the book The Distracted Mind , says after speaking to app designers that the attention seeking game and destroying our concentration is “just business”. The worst things about it is, there are scientists and theories helping them to get better at distracting us. More notably, Rosen’s research has consistently shown that notifications stress us out — and that constant notifications, beeps, buzzes, and vibrations from our smartphones and computers all contribute to ongoing chemical stress.
Problems can be listed down as:
- Fight for attention: If you look at it as a business owner, even you would not want to get behind in the race of attention seeking. If this is just business, you would not want to lose out on it just because people hate it.
- Dopamine disregulation: The dopamine our brain rewards with everytime we follow a notification thinking we can multitask, it start being more and more dependant on extra hardwork which indirectly means gets de-sensitised to normal things which brings us happiness.
- Decrease in productivity: It decreases our concentration and hence productivity into almost half. YES!!! half. Which means that we are vastly ignoring the ill effects of notifications and simply living with our less productive self.
To be practical, even thought users hate it, they are downloading applications if they need to and then dealing with the consequences later. And without any apps on phone, there are multiple painstaking solutions you can adopt to silence according to priority each app in your phone. So should app designer not be responsible about it? What will we do when phones or applications will rise in demand for silencing these applications. How much business will be lost then?
Can there be a solution without losing business?
Let’s redefine it first, what is notification?
What Oxford dictionary says:
What Wikipedia says:
So we can say — giving someone a notice about an activity through any one medium or multiple mediums.
Why do we need notification?
So we can say — so users do not miss out on something important.
How to establish importance?
This is where there is no right answer. The term important is subjective with each user. We can divide them into categories to explore how we can customize different applications notifications. But I was on the path of redefining it rather than just adding a customize feature in the phone.
So, the problem statement is:
I need a way to let mobile users know if something interesting/important has happened in the app they have downloaded so they do not miss out but it does not distract the users from their task and make them check their phone.
Basic criteria of notification being the same:
- Attention grabbing
- Dopamine releasing
- Informative & exciting
Let’s re-frame above criteria:
- Attractive and notice worthy
- Brings joy
- Interesting and concise
- Notifying them when they are on the phone doing something and phone is unlocked. So many design options can be explored in this scenario, we do already have notifications while we are doing something else on the phone but exploring attention grabbing design and micro animations can really take your game to the next level.
2. Notifiying them when they open the app. It is called in-app notifications and yes it already exists in many all creative options available. Adding a little nudge with 3d animations will be a fun way of grabbing attention and surprising the user.
3. Notifying them when they are scrolling through phone home screens with the help of logo and badge icons. These subtle hints and attractions work really as a compulsion to open the application and check the information out.
4. Notifying them when they are switching inbetween apps. Again, a really unique way to hint them about something interesting on the app which user can check immediately.
5. Last but not the least, Notifying them when they touch their phone. Not before or after it. This will grab their attention only when user is ready to spend some time on the phone.
There is more research and testing required t come up with effective ways of informing users. Because the older way is overused and now everyone just ignores all of them even if there were a few important ones. The above solutions provided are my first stab at exploration of unique notification designs. I am sure with more exploration, we as a design community can come with new unique ways without getting on user’s nerves.
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