It’s an aggravating situation we’ve all been in. You sign up for a new service, and the next thing you know you’re Blackberry is blinking, Growl is popping up in the corner of your screen non-stop and your inbox is full. All of these intrusions are communications from the service you’ve just joined. You’re getting an email notification every time that service does anything, no matter how minor. This illustrates what is one of the most pervasive and common UX failures today: having email notifications turned on by default.
When you create a login for most anything these days whether it’s a blog commenting system, a forum or a web app you can be certain that all of the email notifications will be set to “Yes” by default. Receive an email when someone comments? Yes. Receive an email when there’s a new post? Yes. Receive an email when there’s a full moon and Aries is in Virgo ascending? You got it.
From a user interface point of a view, as a user, this is a massive failure. The fact that it has become the norm is even worse. It’s a problem because it shows that the designers aren’t putting the user first, or concerning themselves with the experience the user has using their service. They are concerned with clicks, hits, numbers and traction. Why do designers have the notifications all turned on? To keep you thinking about and engaging with their product. In their eyes, the more times a day they can put their product on your screen the better. This line of thought goes, the more you see the product, the more you’ll use it, the more you’ll click and the bigger and better their numbers will appear. The designers feel that whenever they have a chance to break into your screen, they should take it. They couldn’t be more wrong.
As a user, it’s certainly nice to have the choice to get notifications from the apps and systems that we use. The functionality isn’t the issue here. Users like having flexible features and lots of choices. When designers turn on every notification by default, they become spammers. Any designer with a sliver of UI knowledge will understand that very, very few users will have the need to receive an email notification whenever their product does anything. Since this is the case, and they choose to turn the notifications on by default, they are destroying the UI, eroding the trust of their users and creating a digital nuisance. They are putting their desire for success and big numbers in front of the desire to give their end users a solid product.
It’s certainly possible to go into the settings and remove the email notifications, which most users will do but users shouldn’t have to. Why not give the users what they want? If designers were putting the user first, instead of their pathological need for clicks, email notifications would be disabled when you signup. On the surface, it’s a small concern, but it really provides window into the attitude of the people who create the app. If they would rather annoy and inconvenience their userbase for a chance at a few more clicks, what does that say about how they view their users? It would lead a user to think the developers see them as rubes and numbers, who they can inconvenience and spam to make a quick buck.
This is a clear message to developers out there: treat your users right. When you code up an app, or determine the default settings for your service, please turn off the email notifications by default. Give your users some credit. We’re smart. We all have our own individual workflows and distinct ways that we use services and apps. Give is the choice to determine how the alerts from your program will fit into our way of working. We can find and turn on the alerts we need, when we need them. Do this and we’ll love you for it. We’ll enjoy using your app or service more. Most of all, we’ll know that you respect us, and respect our time.