Notifications the way you like them
Notifications are important but do we need so many of them?
Some notifications make us happy while some make us sad. Some of them are angels reminding us to call our loved ones or pay off that bill on time. For good or for bad, we receive a lot of notifications on our mobile phones everyday shortening our attention span.
Do we really need a game notification during an important work meeting? Do we need an app update notification while we drive? What are the notifications we care about and when? These are some of the questions we are trying to answer with this project and tailor the notification system to the requirements of users.
Circle is a research funded by Google to study notifications on digital devices. I led UX Research and Interaction Design for Dr. Stephen Voida and his team. Based on the research insights from our study and technological explorations, I designed a new notification center for Android.
Understanding user behavior through card sort survey
The efficiency of notifications is dependent on so many factors. They could be grouped into 3 main categories - content type, digital form factor and context. We conducted a study with 15 participants to understand how users are currently using notifications.
- Step 1 — The cards were sorted according to their information categories.
- Step 2— The cards were sorted according to digital form factor.
What we learnt from research?
People would like to receive only relevant information at all times.
How might we deliver the right content in the right context to the users so that they stay on top of their things?
People would like to customize their notifications based on their daily routines.
How might we help them customize their notifications without being too complex?
People do not want to miss out on any important information.
How might we make sure that the user does not miss out on critical information?
Exploring solutions for user needs
I started sketching out various ideas to solve some of the big questions that evolved from our user research. They were 2 themes that emerged from the ideas
- Providing complete customization of notifications based on content and context.
- Providing pre-filtered content whenever the user is ready to consume information.
Exploring user defined consumption intervals
Complete customization of notifications based on content and context is both time consuming and complex for users. I explored a simple 2-step notification customization pattern which allows users to consume there preferred type of content at user driven intervals.
Notification priority settings
Moving apps between categories
List style interactions
Circle intelligently sifts the applications on the phone into 4 main categories. The user can assign priority to desired categories. The notifications from these categories reach the phone immediately. The rest of the low priority notifications arrive when the user unlocks the phone. Unlocking the phone is a user defined information consumption period.
Easy access to notifications
With increasing phone sizes, it’s not easy to pull down the notification drawer from the top always. Since the frequency of the notification access is high compared to individual app icons, an app icon at the bottom is much more comfortable for users.
All along our journey, we ran into problems that could be solved in multiple ways. We came up with a range of alternatives at such junctures, carefully evaluated each of them based on our design criteria and best design practices to make appropriate choices. The following section is a brief take on some of the decisions we made.
Do users have the time for complete customization?
Complete customization is both time consuming and complex for users. Also, users might not consider an exhaustive list of scenarios. Therefore, complete cusomization runs the risk of users missing out on certain notifications or completely avoiding any customization.
Major takeaways from user testing
Users liked the concept of having a notification icon.
"I do not mind replacing the Google Chrome icon on my bottom list of icons."
Users liked the notification categories but asked if they could create their own.
"Can I create a category with all my favourite apps in once place?"
Users were confused if the app would completely replace the notification drawer?
"Will my notifications appear both in my notifications drawer and this app?"