UI Control of the Week: Google-style TransientMessage to show quick, modeless progress or confirmation
January 23, 2012
Sometimes an application has to deliver to the user a brief, non-vital message. A number of sites, including Google’s app suite, show such messages in a transient popup that presents a small bit of information for a second or two, then disappears on its own. Here’s a typical “Loading…” message, which appears over the standard Google toolbar:
An earlier generation of client applications might have shown such information in a status bar. One disadvantage of a status bar is that it’s always there, which not only takes up room, but can inure a user to its presence; they might easily overlook a message that appears there briefly. In contrast, the very appearance of Google’s “Loading…” message over the top of the toolbar helps draw attention to the message.
The “Loading…” message above obviously disappears when the loading operation has completed. In other cases, the message is used to confirm the successful completion of an operation. For example, if you use Cozi to send a shopping list to a family member’s mobile phone, a transient message lets you know the list has been sent successfully. In these cases, a message typically remains visible for about two seconds before fading away, in order to give the user enough time to read it. This sort of message UI may be preferable to a traditional modal confirmation dialog in cases like these where because the information is not vital. If the user happens to look away while the message is visible, they can nevertheless assume the operation worked; the message is just providing explicit confirmation. The fact that the message fades away on its own avoids forcing the user to take a second to dismiss it manually.
- The message goes away on its own, either when an operation completes or when sufficient time has passed to let the user read the message.
- It’s not absolutely essential that the user see the message. Hence, the app doesn’t require that the user acknowledge the message.
- The message content is fairly short, perhaps one medium-length sentence at most. Since reading speeds vary, the longer the text is, the longer variation you’ll have in how long users need to read it. Even if the message is not essential, it would nevertheless be disconcerting to a user for the message to disappear before they could finish reading it.
- The message often visually appears docked to the top of the page (as shown above) or centered vertically.
I’ve posted a TransientMessage control to the QuickUI Catalog. As you’ll see on that page, I’m experimenting with the impressive, embeddable ACE code editor from Ajax.org to let you experiment with controls directly within the Catalog documentation. If this works out, I’ll look at rolling it out to the rest of the Catalog. (Known issue: The page with the code editor doesn't work in IE8 yet.)
As usual, the generic styling of the message can be changed to suit an application’s visual aesthetic.
This control is built on top of the general-purpose Popup base class, making implementation relatively straightforward. One side effect of this implementation is that any click the user makes while the message is displayed will dismiss the message. In future versions, it might be nice to let the user continue to interact with the UI during the short period while the message is visible.