The problem of snackbars and what to use instead

Snackbars – also known as toast messages – are small messages displayed at the top of the interface to give users feedback on the action they just performed.

They are designed to keep users focused on what they are doing, so they are small and automatically disappear after a few seconds.

But snack bars are problematic for many reasons. In this article, I will explain what they are and offer several alternative solutions that are free of such problems.

1. They disappear automatically

Snack bars disappear automatically after a few seconds. This forces users to rush to read or access them, which can cause anxiety and stress.

Snack bars are especially challenging for people with cognitive and motor impairments and for people working in stressful environments.

For example, you got a call when the snackbar appeared and you missed the message. You won’t know what happened when you finish the conversation.

2. They are difficult to use with the keyboard

When snackbars appear, they do not receive keyboard focus.

This makes it difficult for keyboard navigation users to select available actions. Because in terms of the sequence of tabs, the snackbar is far away and will probably disappear by the time the user gets to it.

3. They can randomly change state

Snack bars can change several times in a short amount of time, making them difficult to use.

For example, when you send an email to Gmail, the snackbar status changes 3 times:

The letter is being sent

First, it informs you that an email is being sent. The user can cancel sending or close the message.

Snackbar Gmail when sending email

This state is displayed for less than a second, making it nearly impossible to press the cancel button. And there is no point in closing the snackbar, because the next state appears almost instantly.

The email has been sent, but you can cancel sending

The Snackbar is updated to indicate that an email has been sent. The user can cancel the submission, view the message, or close the snackbar.

The problem of snackbars and what to use instead
Snackbar Gmail when email has just been sent

The email has been sent and you cannot cancel sending

After 5 seconds, “Cancel” disappears, leaving the user the option to view the message or close the snackbar.

The problem of snackbars and what to use instead
Gmail Snackbar when email has been sent and 5 seconds have passed

It remains visible for 10 seconds before disappearing.

This volatile nature makes snack bars difficult to use.

4. They are distracting and may obstruct the screen

Snack bars block a specific part of the screen, which can cause users to interrupt their activities to close them. Or they can just wait for them to disappear.

In any case, snack bars distract users, which can be very annoying.

5. They’re hard to spot

Snack bars are small and appear at the bottom of the page – on the periphery of the user’s vision. This means there is a risk that the user will not see them.

This problem gets even worse for users who magnify an image with a magnifier, because they will most likely not see the snackbar at all.

6. Compared to other types of messages, they are inconsistent

Most of the system messages are displayed at the top of the page, above the content. But snack bars appear at the bottom of the screen.

Since different messages will appear in different places, users need to keep track of two areas of the screen, which increases the cognitive load.

What to use instead

Short answer:

  • show a prominent message at the top of the page
  • draw attention to a message
  • keep the message on the screen until the user leaves the screen (or rejects it)

The long answer is that alerts and notifications must be context specific. More on this at the end of the article.

Constant feedback

Sometimes you need to give users constant feedback.

For example, when working with a Google document, the file constantly switches between the saved and unsaved states.

Although the user needs to know if the file is saved or not, he does not want to be constantly interrupted while working.

The problem of snackbars and what to use instead
Google doc showing status area in header

Google Docs puts a status message next to the menu at the top of the screen, which works well in this context because it:

  • does not interfere
  • does not attract the user’s attention
  • it can be seen instantly
  • you can click on it to see what happened earlier

Output

Notices are intended to give users confidence in the actions they are taking.

But snack bars take away control from the user and can be stressful, making reading interface messages a race against the clock.

If the user is working on something that requires near-constant feedback, such as a Google Doc, add a persistent status area to the interface that users can instantly check.

In most other cases, just display the message in the center of the screen, without automatically disappearing, so that users can see it and act on their own terms.

Thank you Amy hupe for editing this article.

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