Do not disturb

Protect the user’s workflow from disruption

Spatial computing demands spatial notifications. Rather than interrupting the user’s workflow with pop-ups, allow them to designate a separate container to passively collect incoming notifications. This allows the user to remain focused on their task—only stopping to check for updates when desired—and leverages the Neuroscience of Attention.

Do not disturb
UI design suggestions

1. Separate designated areas
Allow the user to designate a container or space to collect incoming notifications away from their workspace, instead of interrupting them directly with pop-ups or alerts. This preserves the user’s control over their experience by allowing them focus on the task at hand, only breaking their concentration for updates when desired. Ideally, such a box would be located outside the user’s field of view and at some reasonable distance, ensuring disruptions are avoided. Under certain circumstances, however, such as when waiting for a critical email from a coworker, the user may choose to bring the box into their field of view or enable audio notifications. In this way, the user can determine whether they wish to prioritize focus on their work, or the ability to be easily reached by outside events. Meta strongly recommends a default priority of the user’s concentration, only allowing disruptive notifications when requested explicitly by the user.

2. Design tools for specific purposes
Certain tasks require bottom-up disruptions (see the Neuroscience section, below) to break top-down flow (like an alarm clock), and should be designed into tools designated for that specific purpose. Remember, though, that even such tools should be designed in a volumetric fashion with affordances to indicate their function, perhaps (but not necessarily) by drawing inspiration from real-world examples like alarm clocks, egg timer and the like (see Minimize Abstraction). Most importantly, the user should always understand how to turn off the sounds and visuals associated with alerts.

3. Allow for tailoring and flexibility
Create flexibility by allowing the user or developer to designate multiple boxes, and tailor them to receive certain kinds of notifications. For instance, one box might be associated with all social media apps from different services or people, while another might be for email only. A third box might handle all incoming phone calls, making it easy for the user to selectively allow calls to disrupt their work (by bringing this particular box closer to the workspace). Boxes can also be connected to specific people or groups, allowing for further organization of incoming notifications.

Furthermore, the design of the box itself should use affordances to suggest its use, such as a lid that can be closed to mute notifications, or opened to enable them.

4. Consider gradual notifications over abrupt ones
If the user chooses to place their notification bin within their workspace, consider using gradual visual or audio cues rather than abrupt alert. Research has shown that such “gentler” notifications are less disruptive to a user’s sustained attention.

The neuroscience behind it

Interruptions such as like notifications can disrupt a user’s sense of flow,
but augmented reality can addresses this problem in unique ways.

Most workflows demand sustained focus on the task at hand, driven by the user’s goals. This is called top-down attention, and is conducive to high-level creative work carried out over an extended period. Sudden, unexpected stimuli—think pop-ups and OS notifications—invoke bottom-up attention, which disrupts the user’s focus and diminishes their connection to the greater task. Such disruptions are useful when triggering split-second survival decisions, but limit the creative or intellectual depth most users demand in the workplace.

Research has shown that such “gentler” notifications are less disruptive to a user’s sustained attention. 

By routing such disruptive input to a designated receptacle specified by the user, ideally positioned at a distance from the workspace, notifications can be collected without interruption and checked only when convenient.

Further Study

The state of top-down attention is the product of a continuous circuit between the intraparietal cortex and superior frontal cortex, which work together to ensure the proper stimuli is selected to drive the desired actions. When this neural circuit is broken by unexpected stimuli, bottom-up attention is invoked (Corbetta & Shulman, 2002).

Paper: Corbetta M., Shulman G.L. (2002) Control of goal-directed and stimulus-driven attention in the brain. Nature Review Neuroscience. 3(3):201-15

Jan T. (2013) Feature-based attention: it is all bottom-up priming. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. 368(1628): 20130055.