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  • Writer's pictureTingbin Tang

Avoid information overload, keep users away from brain fog

We are living in an information era; technologies have brought people with convenience yet more workload. Nowadays, most people would have to process and deal with much more information than before. In this case, when we are designing a product/system, we will try to avoid unnecessary information load, but only deliver the most important message, to make users easily perceive, and take the right action as needed, hence keep users away from brain fog. I would like to use one of my projects as an example.

1. The way we present information may force people

I have done a dirt bin full reminder project for Neato Robotics. Which is, when the vacuum robot’s dirt bin gets full after a certain amount time of cleaning run, the system will send out a message to remind the owner to empty the dirt bin. The company had a fixed location for sending out the robot status, alerts, error messages in the app already, which is right in the center of the app homepage, right above the control panel, displaying some texts with shadowed background. Whereas blue shadow for status, orange color for alert and red for serious errors. When I was assigned with this project, I could have simply just followed this “tradition”, and then the project is done. But after asking a few questions to the engineering team and PM, I decided, no, we cannot put the dirt bin full message there. Why? After confirmation with the team, I found out that we actually do not have a sensor to detect the dirt bin fullness, it will be just an estimate based on the robot running time. In that case, there is a big chance that when user receive such an alert, they go check the robot dirt bin, and it is still quite empty. Plus, even if the dirt bin is full, the robot is still able to continue running. It is not a situation that user will have to take action, otherwise, serious consequences may happen. However, by locating the message in the center of the homepage, which will make users feel that they must to do something.

2. Arrange information from sustainability point of view

Even though this project was just about handling the dirt bin full reminding message, I would like to think long term. What are other messages we may need to send out to users in the future, how can we design a solution, so that in the future such issue will all be easily taken care of? With such thinking, I introduced the notification page.

In the future, users may also receive filter change reminder, brush cleaning or replacement reminder, or their accessories ordering status, delivering status, company events, announcements, and so on. All these information are not part of the robot system status or errors, they do not need to go to the center of the homepage to disturb users, or even force users, yet still available to the users. In order to simply sort of the notifications, I also designed different icons in front of each line of messages.

At the homepage, on the top right corner, there used to be a blue question mark, which was for the Support Center for users to access customer support. However, it is not a frequently used feature, so I move the support center to the side menu bar and replaced it with the bell icon for the entrance of notifications.

3. Be precise, send customized information

Send the information precisely is vital to build the trust. However, as I mentioned, we do not have a sensor to detect the dirt bin fullness, so how can we make sure we send out the reminder at the right time? Different users may have different home environment, some users have pets, some do not; some users have kids at home, some do not; some families have carpet floor, some have hardwood floor… All those conditions may cause the robot collect different amount of dirt for the same amount of running time. So, to better understand each users’ unique situation, first, we have a default reminding time, based on our testing statistics; second, for the first dirt bin reminder, after user confirm the empty, there will be a fullness question. If users’ dirt bin was not that full at that time, we will adjust future reminding time accordingly based on a calculation. Of course, to avoid keep disturbing users, this bin fullness question will only be asked once.

4. One at a time, do not over feed

At the beginning of my design for the dirt bin fullness question, I designed the fullness question slider just like a dirt bin, and user can slide the bar to simply answer the fullness question, and visually see how full the bin is. At the bottom of this page, I informed user with our future reminding time. I then built a prototype and conducted a usability testing with several users.

The feedback collected from usability testing showed, half of the participated users could not understand this page. Some did not know the dirt bin image was slide able; some tried hard to understand the logic between the fullness question and future reminding time; some had some difficulties to figure out which direction slide to bar…

Then I presented users with another design, which I only asked about the fullness; with a simple circle for users to spin to answer the fullness percentage question. Turn out, every one of them like this design and think it is simple to use, the task successful rate during the testing was 100%.

What I learnt from this was, first, the metaphor of a dirt bin shape with dust particles inside, did not actually help much, but actually became a distraction. Second, put both fullness question and future reminding time together in this page, actual increased the difficulties for users to digest and to understand fully.

5. Empower user for customization

Even though we have default settings based on testing statistics, and we adjusted automatically based on users’ fullness question answer, users have still been given the freedom to adjust the reminding time at the robot settings page. Of course, they can even turn off app notification at the phone settings, if they do not want to be disturbed by push notifications.

For the latest vacuum robot, which comes with a Clean Center, and the robot will automatically extract its dirt bin to the Clean Center, which is a bigger tank at the base. For this series of product, the users won’t receive any dirt bin full reminder any more. But only be reminded to replace the bag inside the Clean Center, which is another story.

6. Deliver the information with right timing

Information delivered at right timing, can receive the most positive feedback; information delivered at a wrong time, may become a disturbing. For this case, first, we need to deliver the message out when the dirt bin is actually full or about to be full; second, we need to deliver the message when the owner is actually at home or workplace where the robot is. Otherwise, according to my research, a lot of users claimed that they may just take a look at the message and then forget about it when they get home. Taken this scenario into consideration, I designed the remind later feature. Users can set remind in an hour (if they are in the middle of something); or they can set remind when they get home. When the system detects that user has returned home, then it triggered the notification again, so that user can go ahead take action.

Luck to be at a fast-pacing information era, yet the information can be overload. To avoid such issue, we should deliver the information at right place, at right time, be precise, be relevant, sort out clearly, and make it sustainable.

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