Important Message

Examples: Context:  While using the artifact, the user must be informed of something immediately.   This often happens with Status Display and Control Panel, especially when they are used in life-critical situations, but could happen in other primary patterns as well.

Problem:  How should the artifact convey this information to the user?


Solution:  Interrupt whatever the user is doing with the message, using both sight and sound if possible.  Communicate the message in clear, brief language that can be understood immediately, and provide information on how to remedy the situation, unless the cultural meaning of a non-lingual message is so strong that it cannot be mistaken (like a fire alarm).  If the artifact shouldn't be used until the situation is dealt with, disable all actions until the message is acknowledged.

Use different visual and aural cues for different classes of messages, so that a tense and distracted user has some basis for distinguishing between them. Bright colors, motion or flashing, and loud, strident, or shrill sounds all work to get a user's attention. Stop the alarm after acknowledgement, or at least let the user mute anything truly distracting.

Resulting Context:  Give the user an obvious way to acknowledge the message.   If an audit trail is necessary or desirable, keep track of the messages over time, as with an Interaction History.

Notes:  This is terribly overused. In truth, it's rarely the case that a user really must acknowledge a message before they can resume normal use. If this pattern is used with a non-critical message, a user's patience will quickly wear thin, and subsequent messages are at risk of being ignored (as in the boy who cried "Wolf") and bad things may happen. Use some form of Status Display for things which aren't critically important; don't shove them into the user's consciousness uninvited.

There's got to be good reference material out there on this subject.

Comments to:
Last modified May 17, 1999

Copyright (c) 1999 by Jenifer Tidwell.  All rights reserved.