Focus on design for notifications

Design for mobile has one important aspect that is overlooked often: notifications. I think that the connection with an app and the functionality is highly defined by smart use of notifications. Mostly notifications are applied directly connected to the in app streams or to the functions of the app in general. I think however that you can win a lot with doing a separate design track for these notifications. Building a relation via the right (and not the wrong) notifications is a chance.
This will even become more important with the merge of OSes to cloud-based operating systems, like the new Mountain Lion indicates clearly. Notifications everywhere are a result of the trend to mobile first and well put in this article on SoMoClo.

When I have to judge designs for mobile apps I always pay extra attention to the notifications. And with designing service ecosystems with coherent touch-points the notifications can be the binding element, the element that is key in the relation with the service of the organisation.

Some basic rules for good notification design that I propose.

  • think of the relation a user has with the service as the start
  • make a concept; based on motivations of use
  • be humble and relevant; with notifications as default
  • be personal and adaptive; let the user define the level of notifications
  • design the landing separately; connected to the intention of the notification
  • adapt to the context; ideally a notification on your phone on the go should be different from the one when your are on the couch. At least make a difference between devices
  • provide good copy; make copy personal, fitting the service. Choose carefully what to put in the notification for direct reading.

I have to think hard on good examples. Some apps do it right on parts of the notifications. I like the way Foursquare let me filter on users instead of only on functions for instance. And boxcar does a good job to set filters. But I don’t can think of one compelling example. Let me know if you have any!

Published by


I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s