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How I Learned Why Great Notification Is So Important

In 1984, I was an 11 year-old kid who just got a computer from Radio Shack. Blondie, Loverboy and AC/DC were playing on the radio, and computers were just getting into homes around the world.

I remember getting Extended Basic programs for the TRS-80 from a magazine, then entering short programs directly onto the command line and then issuing the run command to see what would happen. When I turned off the computer, all of my work was gone, until I entered a different program another day. Boy was I happy when I got a disk drive. Mostly, the programs were simple, displaying circles and lines, or other easy things. Today that seems elementary, but in 1984, we had never seen anything like it! Some of these simple programs allowed you to create simple notification messages for different purposes.

Not long after that, this guy in my neighborhood said he had a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A and was programming some stuff with TI Basic and wanted to show me this cool program he had created. To my surprise, he had programmed a space shuttle game!! There is was in all it's lego-block-graphic glory. Even better, you could mash some keyboard buttons to make it take off, but if you didn't do it just right, it would give you messages to mash the buttons faster, and if you didn't get the shuttle out of orbit fast enough, you failed. Pretty cool program if you ask me!

Well, the shocker was when I failed to launch the shuttle, and he had programmed different notifications than in the magazine article: "hey stupid! go faster or we'll die!", "you failed %$#@head!". For a moment I remember being blindsided, before I realized what he had done.

This was my first lesson in notification. It was one that I would not reflect on until much later, when I started designing data applications for people to use. The lesson is that how technology interacts with us has a great impact on our experience. Seems obvious, right?

The basic takeaways include:

- How you notify users is actually important!
- Spelling and/or grammar mistakes in messages can cause a loss of user trust in your system.
- Surprising, strange, or disrespectful messages can cause anxiety for every day users.
- Using inappropriate, or missing context is rampant among today's coders. Don't use a message with a fatal, or even exclamation error icon to tell a user they simply missed a field entry on a form!
- You have no idea who might eventually see your message. Craft it right the first time so that it will convey your message to a wide range of people without offense.
- Tell your users clearly what they must do before continuing.

If you build great messaging and notifications into your systems, your users will be happier, less stressed out, and will trust that the system is a good one to work in.

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