An "empty state" is a design approach used for instances where a screen doesn't have data or content to display. Imagine walking into a brand new bookstore, but the shelves are empty; there's a lot of potential, but nothing to browse or explore yet. Similarly, in digital product design, empty states are like the empty shelves but for user interfaces.
Empty states often occur in scenarios such as:
First Use: When a user opens an app or visits a page for the first time and hasn’t added any information or content yet. This is like the blank page of a new diary waiting to be filled with memories.
User Cleared Data: When a user has actively removed or cleared their data or content. Picture a bulletin board after someone has taken down all the notes and pictures – it's just waiting for new items to be pinned.
Errors or Issues: When something goes wrong, like a failed search or a broken link, the empty state is the equivalent of someone holding up a sign saying “Oops, nothing here!” Imagine scuba diving in search of a famous shipwreck but finding out that you're at the wrong coordinates.
No Results: When a user’s search or filter criteria don’t match any content. Think of searching for a penguin in a desert; you're not going to find one because they don't live there.
No Data: When there’s no relevant data to show, such as in analytics or dashboard interfaces without any tracked information. It's like looking at a scoreboard before the game starts – no points yet!
When designing an empty state, it's not just about telling the user there’s nothing to see; it's about guiding them to what to do next. Here are a few elements that might be included in a well-designed empty state:
Inviting Graphics or Illustrations: These can lighten the mood and make the empty screen less intimidating, using visuals to engage the user's attention. It's like having friendly pictures on those empty bookstore shelves that invite you to come back when the books arrive.
Instructional Text: This clearly explains why the screen is empty and what the user can do about it. It's like a sign in that empty bookstore guiding you to a desk where you can preorder books.
Call to Action (CTA) Buttons: These are prompts for the user to take action, such as creating new content, importing data, or suggesting a starting point. It's similar to a "Start Here" sign introducing you to the first steps you can take in the store.
Helpful Navigation: Links or suggestions that guide users to other parts of the app or website they might be interested in. Like a menu in the bookstore that suggests events or reading clubs you might want to join while waiting for the shelves to fill up.
Using empty states well plays a critical role in the overall user experience. A well-designed empty state can:
Educate: It can guide and instruct users by making it clear what they need to do next.
Engage: It can help maintain user interest and prevent them from leaving the app or website out of frustration.
Empower: By providing clear instructions and CTAs, it can make users feel in control of the situation.
Reassure: It can prevent confusion or worry about whether something is broken or missing by explaining why the screen is empty.
Remember, the key to a good empty state is not just to address the lack of content, but to encourage interaction and provide a positive, useful next step for the user, ensuring the user understands that this is temporary and part of the normal app experience.