Client International Monetary Fund
Date 2003
Roles Designer, Prototyper
Tech HTML, CSS, JS
Niara AnalyzerVelocloud OrchestratorHealtheon/WebMD RACER
Nielsen Norman Group WebsiteHewlett-PackardIMF Email Notifications

Email Notifications

The IMF promotes international monetary cooperation and exchange stability, fosters economic growth, and provides temporary financial assistance to countries in need. As part of its work, it produces a large amount of data, statistics, reports, and other publications.

Users could subscribe to notifications when any of that content was updated. However, managing one’s subscriptions and settings was not easy. The challenge was to come up with a usable and effective solution.

Process

As interaction designer, I started by learning about the content. There were several things to consider from a user’s perspective:

  • Series: The type of publication or report of interest
  • Country: Country or countries of interest
  • Update Frequency: How often a given series is updated (varied anywhere from annually to daily)
  • Delivery Frequency: How often should notifications be sent (immediate, daily summary, weekly summary)

The client had been considering a wizard to walk users through all these decisions, but that really wasn’t a good solution. I wanted a design that made it easy to see and manage all the notification subscriptions in one place.

With that in mind, I designed several concepts and produced a couple prototypes. Working with Nielsen Norman Group, we subjected them to usability tests. Based on those results, we revised the designs, tested again, and updated a final prototype reflecting our final recommended design.

The Designs

Screenshot

Notifications Home Page: Most content pages on the IMF site provide an option to subscribe to notifications, which brings you here, the central page for managing subscriptions and related settings.

To receive email notifications, you obviously need to provide an email address. But we wanted to defer asking for that because registration presents a roadblock that we wanted to avoid. Instead, you directly start picking the types of updates you’re interested in:

  • Updates to particular publications
  • Updates about particular countries
Screenshot

Series Selection: Clicking to select particular publications takes the user to a long list of available publications, with short descriptions and, importanty, an approximate update frequency.

When the publications are selected, you have two choices: Continue (which will take you back to the main page), or Select Countries, which will take you to the Country Selection page (which is similar, but obviously provides the list of countries, for which any content updates ).

Screenshot

Back on the main page, users can review what they’ve selected, add additional items, or remove them.

Further, they can fine-tune delivery preferences for each item (whether to receive notification immediately when the content is updated, or only in daily or weekly batches). Together with the expected update frequency, we wanted users to have insight and control into how much email they should expect.

Note that this choice is per-item, which is potentially confusing. For example, if an item that should only send notifications as part of your weekly batch includes an article about a country of interest for which you want immediate updates, which wins? Are there duplicates?

After several iterations, we decided the best thing to do was to just explain the behavior. (Answer: No duplicates. You will only get a given notification once. As for daily and weekly, you will only receive one email per day or week, containing a roll-up of all your notifications.)

Screenshot

Registration: After all that, you might think you’re done, but in fact you’re not. When you click Continue, you are finally prompted for an email address and password. It might seem like having to click Continue could be a problem, that it might be better to take the user here before taking them back to the main page, but it worked fine in testing.

The IMF wanted to collect additional (optional) information, which we separated visually so users could quickly decide to skip over it if they chose (again, the goal here is to get users to successfully register, not scare them away by asking for more information than they want to volunteer).

Screenshot

Whenever the user returns to modify their subscriptions or settings, they are taken to essentially the same screen they started and ended with when first subscribing. The main difference is they have additional links to change their email address or password (also, a Save button instead of Continue).

As of 2018, this design is largely unchanged.