The empty state design mantra?

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A common mistake UX designers make while designing a digital product is they miss out on paying attention to empty states. It leads to the detriment of user’s experience and adds to the user’s cognitive load.

Designing for empty states is as important as designing populated screens. The questions to ask yourself while designing for empty screens are,

  • Why is there no data?
  • How to add data?
  • How to make the user add data?
  • How to show the user the process of adding data?

Answering all these questions will lead to the perfect empty state which will lead to an adaptive user base. Having an adaptive user base is any day good for business.

The users are faced with an empty state on landing on the platform and there is no data populated. The other scenarios are when the data is cleared or when there is an error. Treating these states right and giving it it’s due importance will elevate the user’s experience. Let’s see how each of these scenarios can be dealt with.

First Use#first-use

The first time the platform is being used the user is going to be met with empty screens. What the user sees at this stage is very important. First impression is the best impression and if gone wrong it is very difficult to overcome. Based on what the context is the empty screens have to communicate the following,

  1. The user has to be informed about the empty screen, the whats, whys, and hows.

Designing Empty States The user is informed about why the screen is in a empty state

Designing Empty States The user is informed of the whys

  1. The user has to be prompted towards taking an action to populate the platform.

Designing Empty States The user is prompted to take an action.

Designing Empty States The user is educated about how the platform works

Data Cleared#data-cleared

If data is cleared and the user is faced with an empty screen the user has to be informed about re-populating the platforms and the ways and means to do so. If clearing the data is a positive task then the user must be rewarded for such actions, but if it is a negative task then the user must be made aware of his actions.

Designing Empty States The user is rewarded for completing all tasks

Designing Empty States Positive words as encouragement for completing tasks

Error#error

This is a tricky situation. The user has to be made aware of the situation but should not be actively held responsible for it. It should not be a ‘in your face message’ but rather an escape route should be mapped out for the user to take the right next step and get out of the ‘error’ state.

Designing Empty States This is a not preferred. It would be nice to inform the user of why the error happened and show them the right way.

Empty states caused by the absence of internet should be dealt with differently. Components or elements to engage the user offline should be incorporated to keep the users on the page. If not for long at-least for a minute, hoping the internet is back by then.

Designing Empty States The ‘TRY AGAIN’ CTA keeps the user engaged on the screen by promptimg to carry out an action

Anthropomorphism#anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism is adding personality or human traits to non-human things. Using anthropomorphism in the empty states helps the platform connect with the user. It sets the tone of the dialogue between a human (user) and a thing (platform). Anthropomorphism in my perspective is the one global route to tackle empty states. It can be reflected in text and illustrations. It will progressively prevent the detriment of the user’s experience.

Designing Empty States Adding a human emotion like ‘sad’ to the empty state is anthropomorphism

Designing Empty States Adding personality to the empty screen strikes a cord with the user

So, clearly empty states has got a lot more to think and design for than just leaving it empty. It connects with the users and creates a tone in the conversations. Lets make empty states as important as the platform itself.

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