If figuring out when to use toast notifications feels as tricky as making the perfect toast, you’re not alone!
Choosing the right notification type to implement in your design can be challenging because it is a crucial element in ensuring a smooth user experience. But don’t worry — this article will guide you through the ins and outs of toast notifications. We’ll cover appropriate scenarios, best practices, common pitfalls, and provide practical examples from familiar products.
Let’s get started!
In simple terms, toast notifications are time-bound user interface elements used to convey information. They’re called toast notifications because they’re similar to popups — they “pop up” on the screen. But unlike popups, toast notifications are designed to be unobtrusive and do not require the user to close them immediately. Toasts disappear usually within seconds.
Toast notifications are typically used to display information to users in a way that does not obstruct or interrupt their workflow.
They are implemented as pop-out elements on screen, as an alert to confirm or give feedback on a user’s action or to convey information to the user, particularly in instances that do not require the user to take further action. This type of notification typically should appear on screen for a few seconds, anywhere from 3 to 8 seconds, but no more.
When considering whether to use toast notifications in your design, it’s also important to consider the following:
As with all things, there are best practices to determine whether toast notifications are appropriate for a given situation. Here, we will outline five scenarios for which toast notifications are most suitable:
Toast notifications are ideal for confirming completed actions because they are brief and provide instant feedback. Users receive immediate assurance that their intended action, such as sending a message, was successful.
For instance, in a messaging app, when a user sends a message, a toast notification appears briefly, saying “Message sent” to confirm the action, like we see in Gmail:
While toast notifications are nonintrusive, they can quickly grab the user’s attention without disrupting their current task. This makes them suitable for conveying low-priority information, such as minor weather changes, that users should be aware of but don’t require immediate action.
For instance, in a weather app, a toast notification might appear to inform the user about a minor weather change, like “Slight temperature drop expected later today.” Forecast Bar has a good example of this:
Toast notifications are a convenient way to present users with an immediate option to undo their last action. The brevity of toast notifications ensures that this option is easily noticeable without overshadowing the main interface.
For instance, in a photo editing app, a user applies a filter to an image. A toast notification appears, saying “Filter Applied,” and provides a brief option to “Undo” the last action, allowing users to revert the filter quickly if they change their mind.
Toast notifications are designed to appear briefly at the periphery of the screen, ensuring that they don’t disrupt the user’s ongoing workflow. They provide relevant information, like upcoming calendar events, without requiring the user to navigate away from their current task.
For example, in a calendar app, a toast notification may briefly appear to remind the user of an upcoming meeting without taking them away from their current task.
Toast notifications are effective for scenarios where the information conveyed doesn’t demand immediate user action. They deliver non-urgent updates, such as breaking news headlines, allowing users to stay informed without being compelled to take immediate steps.
For instance, in a mobile banking app, a toast notification appears to inform the user that a transaction has been completed successfully, without requiring the user to take further action.
In certain scenarios, opting to use a toast notification might be like using a spoon when you need a knife: ineffective at best or downright obstructive at worst. Let’s take a look at the four instances when it would be impractical to use toast notifications:
|1: High-priority or critical alerts
|If conveyed with a toast notification, these important alerts can easily be missed. Instead, to ensure that users don’t miss critical information, use an in-app modal, push notification, or email notification depending on the level of priority.
|In a finance app, a user attempts to make a purchase, but the card payment fails. A toast notification saying, “Card payment failed, please update your payment details,” would be easily missed.
|A modal dialog or push notification.
These would better capture the urgency and importance of the situation, and cannot easily be missed, ensuring the user is able to successfully complete their task.
|2: Error messages
|Essential errors require immediate user attention. Toast notifications, being brief and easily dismissible, would not effectively convey the severity of an error.
|In an email application, if there is a loss of connection resulting in the inability to send an important email, a toast notification with the message “Connection lost. Please reconnect to continue” might not be noticed or treated with the seriousness it deserves.
|An alert or modal (that does not disappear) would more effectively communicate the urgency of the situation.
|3: Conveying critical information, especially not during onboarding
|Toast notifications are easily overlooked and are not suitable for crucial information, especially when users are still getting familiar with the application during onboarding.
|During the onboarding process of an app, if there’s a critical update to the terms of service or a policy change, relying on a toast notification could lead to users overlooking important details.
|In this case, a dialog or modal window or a dedicated onboarding screen would be more appropriate for conveying critical information.
|4: Displaying long or complex information
|Toast notifications are designed for brief, immediate messages and are not suitable for displaying long or intricate information.
|If a software application has undergone a major update with a long list of changes, trying to communicate all these details through a toast notification would be inappropriate.
|Instead, a push notification, alert, or banner (which can be extended to view more details) would be more effective in conveying detailed information without causing information overload.
Are you still wondering why it’s important to use toast notifications appropriately in your designs?
Well, this is important because toast notifications are designed to be unobtrusive, making it less likely for users to notice them adequately. Additionally, they lack a sense of urgency and can be unintentionally swiped away, causing users to miss critical information.
I’ve come across instances where designers misused toast notifications to convey failed login attempts. Let me walk you through a scenario to illustrate why this is far from optimal.
Picture this: you’re attempting to sign in to your bank’s mobile app to make a payment at a store. After entering your password, you briefly look up to ask the cashier a question. At this time, the screen displays a toast notification saying, “incorrect username or password,” then it disappears after a few seconds.
When you return your attention to your phone, you’re puzzled as to why your bank app isn’t logged in yet. Perhaps you think you forgot to press enter, so you press it again, quickly checking your pockets to make sure you haven’t misplaced your car keys. Yet, when you look back at your phone, it’s still not signed in. What’s happening?
This scenario reflects the reality of how our customers typically engage with our products — skimming, scanning, or not paying full attention to every screen detail. This is why it’s crucial to empathize with your users to help you make informed decisions when implementing notifications.
As illustrated above, toast notifications, when used correctly, can be a powerful tool in enhancing user experience. To help you harness their potential, I’ve compiled ten invaluable tips for the effective implementation of toast notifications in your designs.
Drawing inspiration from Jakob Nielsen’s proven usability heuristics, these tips serve as a guide to ensure that your toast notifications not only inform but also enrich the overall user journey.
Use toast notifications to instantly inform users about a system event.
Example: In a calendar app, display a toast notification when an event is successfully added, confirming the action without navigating away.
Design toast notifications with real-world analogies for intuitive understanding.
Example: In a file-sharing app, show a toast notification with a green checkmark ✅ when a file upload is complete, mimicking the real-world concept of a completed task.
Allow users to dismiss or interact with toast notifications, giving them control.
Example: A user is able to undo an action by clicking the toast or can ignore the toast to confirm their intention.
Ensure toast notifications have a consistent design and placement so that users can predict their appearance and behavior.
Use toast notifications for noncritical information, avoiding their use for error messages, thus minimizing the potential for user error.
Example: In an ecommerce app, display a toast notification confirming a successful item addition rather than using it for error messages like payment failure.
Present relevant information through toast notifications at appropriate times, reducing the need for users to remember critical data.
Enable efficient communication through toast notifications without requiring users to navigate through multiple screens or menus.
Example: In a navigation app, provide real-time traffic updates via toast notifications, allowing users to stay informed without navigating away.
Design visually simple toast notifications to avoid overwhelming the user interface.
Use toast notifications to immediately inform users of actions taken and offer a shortcut to undo or change a request.
In this instance, when you copy a link to a restricted file, the toast notification appears with a handy “manage access” button. This button acts as a quick and convenient shortcut for the user to effortlessly share the file, making the whole process intuitive and smooth.
Use toast notifications to provide contextual tips and shortcuts for users without requiring them to consult help documentation or FAQs.
And there you have it, a comprehensive guide to toast notifications: when to use them, how to use them, and when it’s best to consider alternatives.
As we’ve learned, toast notifications are crucial for providing feedback, confirmation, and updates to users. When used effectively, they enhance the overall user experience by delivering timely and relevant information without disrupting the workflow.
To reiterate, for the effective use of toast notifications start with understanding:
By following the best practices and tips shared in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to creating toast notifications that not only inform but also delight your users.
Header image source: IconScout
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