If you are lucky enough to be with us in tropical Las Palmas and attended Owen’s keynote today you saw a preview of some of the new ideas we’ve been toying with for the GNOME Shell. One of these concepts, that we think should be pretty fun, is what we’ve been calling the Message Tray.
Basically, the HCI literature is full of studies that have found that messaging (in the broadest sense) accounts for a significant percentage of user task interruptions. But at the same time, messaging (especially instant messaging) is one of the most important applications for personal computing devices today. One of the most fun too. As we connect to an increasing number of information sources and friends, managing disruptions has become a real challenge. The primary goal of the Message Tray is to provide the user with enough information to quickly assess an event but limit the severity and duration of the preemption. Another important goal is to allow but not compel the user to respond to the event – again quickly and with limited disruption. Another side effect of information overload and frequent disruption is that it far too easy to forget what we are doing and what we want to do. So, the tray also provides an important reminding function for messages that the user has deferred addressing.
More specific goals include:
- permit the user to stay focused on the primary task
- provide awareness of new notifications
- remind for unseen messages
- direct attention to high priority messages and alerts
- use an unobtrusive display
- provide a uniform interface for messages, notifications, and alerts
- allow the user to control the information display
As you can see from the mockup, the design of the Message Tray supports four modes of operation:
- Hidden mode – tray is normally hidden off the bottom of the screen and remains hidden if the user is marked as “busy”
- Notification mode – shows a one line summary of the notification or message along with an icon
- Summary mode – a peripheral awareness (or low detail) mode showing an icon for each Message Source
- Detail mode – an interactive mode showing more detail about each Message Source
One of the major advantages this system will have over any other that I’m aware of is the ability to quickly respond to messages from friends and coworkers without breaking my primary focus or switching away from my current application. In fact, it becomes much easier to talk about your primary task. We will be able to integrate chat deeply into the core GNOME experience. At least for me, and pretty much everyone I know, that will be pretty damn cool.
You can read more about this and the rest of the GNOME Shell design concepts in a document I’ve put together to try to explain it to myself and others. I should emphasize that this is a living document that we’ll try to keep up-to-date as things evolve. Check it out and let me know what you think.
If you want to help or become involved in this evolution we’d love to talk to you anytime this week and especially at the GNOME Shell design BoF on Thursday. Please see Marina’s blog post for some details of that. Or drop by #gnome-shell on IRC or jump on the mailing list.
Are you a designer? A messaging and chat expert? A hacker extraordinaire? We need you!
Please stay tuned for more previews and design discussions in forthcoming posts.