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.

My Role

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
Jot down the different devices used by the users in the corners of a chart paper. 

Step 2
Write down the notification type on the front of the card and place it on the chart. 

Step 3
On the back of the card capture the digital form factor and context.

Identifying themes

  • Step 1 —  The cards were sorted according to their information categories.
  • Step 2— The cards were sorted according to digital form factor.

Sorting the cards generated during our user interviews to identify themes.

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

Introducing Circle

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. 

Organized information

All the applications on the phone are pushed into one of these categories intelligently based on their content. The user can now browse through content specific notifications.

Fun empty states

Most users would aim to empty their notification drawer as soon as possible. I created some fun emoji's to make the experience less stressful.

Easily customize your content

Users can move apps between categories using this simple interaction. Tapping on any of the icons activates the selection mode. 

Never miss an important notification

Notifications from apps in the priority category will arrive immediately. Non-priority notifications reach the user when the user unlocks the phone.

Design decisions

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.


How do we move apps between categories?

Traditional selection actions blocks selected items while the user is making the decision. The new bottom action bar presents the options in an unobtrusive manner with lesser number of clicks.

Bottom action bar
Traditional selection action

How do we display app lists?

Apps are usually arranged in vertical lists in the Android's setting panel. However, a grid layout offers more content visibility without scrolling. It also makes it easier to view selected items while moving apps between categories.


Do we still have the "swipe from top" notification drawer?

Although a new app gives more control, the notification drawer has to be re-designed to fit the new mental model because swiping from the top makes sure that notifications are accessible even when user is another app.


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?"