Reasons for site-wide announcements
If your web site or web application has a regular user base, and you’re constantly innovating (which you should be), then there will be a time when you need to let the users know of planned downtime, or explain why a particular feature is temporarily disabled. A nice notification of some sort is a great way to get the user’s attention while allowing them (or not allowing them) to proceed with thier regular business.
If you’ve used Mint.com, Dropbox or any site that uses the standard top notification bar then you’ve probably seen the “planned maintenance” notification or the “balance is low” warning. The two aforementioned sites are exceptionally good when it comes to UI design and interaction, but some sites just get it wrong. Here are a few tips that can help when designing one of these systems:
- Time the announcements
If you’ve got a promotion running for 1 week, it pays to have the announcement bar appear only during that time. If you allow your announcements to have a start and end date, it will give an extra dimension to the way you can use them, and makes sure that they don’t start too early or go stale.
- Allow the user to dismiss the announcement
The most annoying thing that can happen with announcements is the reappearing of an already dismissed announcement. Firstly, provide a close button and when it’s clicked get rid of the announcement, plain and simple. Make it go away and stay away.
- Don’t hide the “Don’t Show Again” button
That fact is that some users are too impatient or uninterested to read your announcement before quickly closing it. Make your important announcements “sticky” so they will reappear the next time the user visits the site. On the other hand, if the user has read it and would not like to see it again, make sure that the “Don’t Show Again” check box is prominently displayed and easily accessible
- Store the dismissal in a database if applicable
If your users have actual accounts on your site and are not just anonymous, don’t just store cookies on their machines for keeping the announcement hidden, but also mark the announcement as read in the database for that user. This way if the user accesses your site from multiple computers, they won’t be bombarded by the same announcements all throughout the day as they switch computers.
The light box/screen lock out
I left this one for last because I’m not sure where I stand on this issue. The light box/screen lock out (dimming the screen and placing a modal dialog or settings pane) can be extremely effective for cases where user information needs to be updated, or action is absolutely required. However, this brings up the issue of stopping the user dead in her tracks simply because you said so. Remember that they are your users, and they’re on your site, but they can always go elsewhere if they become too annoyed.
The main thing to remember when creating an announcement system is that people don’t like popups, they don’t like being interrupted and they definately don’t like losing control of the screen just because you have something to say. It’s also important to remember that locking the users screen with a modal dialog box may be the best choice for some cases, but they never forget where the close box is located on thier browser and they are not afraid to use it.