The Notifications Layer of UX

I first started thinking more about notifications and alerts when Yo! became popular almost a year ago, but as the Apple Watch gets closer to being a real thing in the wild and as I've spent more time tinkering with mobile app concepts I think it's still something worth talking about.

A lot of times, we think of alerts from the applications we use as the sugar that sits on top of a well-designed user experience. In reality, notifications and alerts are probably the most critical interaction mechanic we have - most days they're the primary reason I open many apps on my phone. With some apps, they're the only way I interact on any given day.

All this gets me wondering if it's time we started thinking about notifications & alerts as their own "layer" of UX, not just a group of features. The best mobile app developers are clearly already thinking this way, and obviously manufacturers and OS makers are finding more ways to make these interactions part of the native experience. But it’s not yet (or doesn’t seem to me, at least) an area of UX that gets paid the same attention as other parts of our apps like nav elements and touch area or gestures.

In light of the recent release of the Apple Watch and others like it - maybe the first class of devices designed to function almost exclusively at the notifications layer -  it certainly seems like we ought to start thinking about them like first class citizens of UX. I think they’ve earned it.

Original Notes for this Post

Note: This is something new I'm going to start adding to my posts. Most of the time, this is how a post starts for me: a thought followed by a couple of bullets and questions. Sometimes it ends up being more insightful than the finished post itself, so I'm just going to leave these here on the off chance they spark something more. Let me know if you think they should stay or go in future posts.

Notifications/Alert Layer

  • A whole layer of HCI/UX, not just a feature
  • What's fundamentally different about it?
  • What's it particularly useful for?
  • What % of interactions it could make up in the future?
  • Can you make a diagram for the whole UX 'stack' from lightweight to immersive? Is it mobile only?
  • iOS 8 interactive notifications/OSX notification center/Google Now
  • The watch as a device for the notifications layer
  • Information vs. action mechanic