Context, Cards and Notification Design

At the beginning of the year I wrote a blogpost titled “Contextual is the new Mobile” in which I wrote that contextual based interaction with devices is key to making the future of mobile work. The new mobile requires devices, services and information to be embedded (integrated into the environment), personalized (tailored to your needs), adaptive (change in response to you) and anticipatory (anticipating a users intentions without conscious mediation).

This idea fits into a broader shift in the way we interact with the web. It is increasingly less about pages and destinations, and more about personalized experiences built on an aggregation of many individual pieces of content from different sources. A development based on the diversity of screens in all shapes and sizes and widespread access to data from all kinds of sources through APIs and SDKs.

The notification is the interface
Dubbed the notification as the interface (1 & 2), this design framework is being build today. In IOS8 the notification center aims to be the most important screen on your iPhone with interactive notifications.

Interactive-notifications-let-you-take-action-right-from-the-lock-screen-and-Notification-Center-e1410861264801

They’re not just simple announcements or calls to action anymore. They are actions in and of themselves. Android has similar functionality. Emerging platforms like Android Wear and Apple Watch are confirming these trends towards notifications being both content and action.

Some argue that the “that the idea of having a screen full of icons, representing independent apps, that need to be opened to experience them, is making less and less sense. The idea that these apps sit in the background, pushing content into a central experience, is making more and more sense.” I could not agree more.

Designing the notification layer
Notifications are often associated with information overload. However if we use the contextual framework from my previous post and design for relevancy and contextual triggers, (better) notifications could actually save users a lot of time and lower the pressure of having to deal with incoming information.

The primary design pattern here are cards as small containers for content that can come from any app to notify you and offer you a way to take action. Cards should be perceived as modular, bite-sized content containers designed for easy consumption and interaction on (small) screens. Apps such as Trello and Evernote have successfully introduced card-based interfaces. Then there are other formats who depend on cards as well, such as intelligent assistants like Microsoft Bing and Cortana, Google and Google Now and Apple Siri.

Designing the notifications, and the actions within them, will become an increasingly important part of product and service design. This requires breaking things down to individual packages of relevant content that can show up anywhere, on any device. This means that we will need to spend as much of our time on the outside-experience of an app (meaning designing the system experience), as on the experiences within the app itself.

Leave a Reply