How Can You Use the "Visibility of System Status" Principle to Guide Users?

January 22, 2024

Progress bar by Nikoleta Angelova UX designer
A feeling of reassurance. — Design by the author.

Why this principle is important?

In UX we believe that transparency and honesty come first. We make sure that our user not only feels like they have control but also feel like what they see is what they get. The user experience should feel like an open book, and while reading it, you might get delightful surprises here and there. User experience is also based highly on trust, so when the user gets all necessary portions of information at the right time, they can feel confident and delighted when using such a smooth product.

How to provide feedback?

Here comes in handy all that research and expertise you have as a user experience designer. If you have actively listened to your users, you will know where, when and how to provide such feedback through the system. This is the proof of concept step where you as a team have to advocate for yourself as a good and considerate communicator facing your user. Such communication expertise is highly needed when we are talking about sensitive information such as money, health, privacy and safety.

How to indicate status?

There are numerous ways you could indicate different types of status in your system. A few options are (static or dynamic):

  • Text
  • Icons
  • Symbols
  • Animations
  • Colours
  • Vibration
  • Combinations of all

One of the most foundational examples of a good way to indicate status is the use of a progress bar. Or the use of breadcrumbs, showing you where you are and where you can go. Ah. delightful and clear navigation, I love it.

Now that I am writing this story I immediately can recall one website that can use a better way of indicating a status! That website is the Croatian tax office. Yep, I submitted my papers on time before 15.02.24, but I couldn’t see that submission as successfully recorded. I did get the confirmation immediately after I pressed send, but could not find it afterwards. Do you know why? Because only the submissions for 2024 were visible. 🤦🏽‍♀️

Croatian Tax Office website and submittion form record
Good that I noticed the year somehow and prevented a panic attack. 😁

How to test and improve?

Ask your users. Be open and receptive to feedback. Make sure you take into consideration any feedback that comes from your users, follow up with interviews if possible, and set up tests on different devices, etc. Another way is to look at your analytics find any numbers that raise eyebrows, and then ask why until you get to the root of it.

Here’s what else to consider

Example: avoid generic labels at all costs! These can only create more confusion, uncertainty, anxiety and panic for your users, especially if you provide any kind of sensitive information services. My bank has two different applications for online banking, one called George which has phenomenal user experience and it shows. The feedback is instant, it has integrated support and a chat segment even, which takes it one notch above other applications. The other one is called mBanking, and I am not sure if it is a predecessor or successor, but it is clear that different teams have developed the app. This is reflected in slower system feedback and also the use of generic labels such as “Payment transaction fee collection” on dates that don't match the dates of the transactions. So my best advice is to make it simple and clear.


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