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Simple Ideas: a palate cleanser (feeding the user)

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Having feasted amply on the hidden delights of Alfred's Keyword Input it's time to be served a small palate cleanser.

A good worklow holds the hand of the user—even if it's your workflow and your hand being held. The ultimate hand-holding lies in a good and comprehensive Workflow Configuration. However, that's for another day. Today we'll look at prompts, Alfred's Dialog Conditional and Post Notification Output...with a tiny addendum.

As background to those it's very helpful to understand variables and how they are used.

Prompting the user
When we expect something from a user it's really important to be clear about exactly what we expect. We saw an example of that when considering Keyword Input—where the second Keyword Input used a variable as part of the prompt for the second part of the phrase.

In a similar way, if we create a Universal Action we need to ensure it has a helpful title so that the user knows what it does.

However, there's another way to prompt the user…

The Dialog Conditional
Alfred's Dialog Conditional is very useful for providing feedback to a user. It may provide the result of the workflow with some alternative actions as in this example from my Word and character count workflow (on the Alfred Gallery):

Alternatively we can use it to warn users of any error which occurs in a workflow (for example, trying to delete a non-existent file). Here's an example from my Save 'ur note workflow (also on the Alfred Gallery):

Error trapping is an integral part of a good workflow. A user is an unpredictable beast and entirely capable of wandering into a workflow and breaking it. We can't trap every error but it's worthwhile considering and trapping those most likely to occur. When we do that we should always provide to the user a helpful error message—and the Dialog Conditional is ideal for that.

Neither we nor another user should be left in any doubt that a workflow has actually done something. Any workflow which saves something, adds something to the clipboard or otherwise ends silently having achieved its goal really should end with a notification reassuring the user of success.

Here's another example from my Save 'ur note workflow:

We have reassured the user that the workflow has done what was requested but have also provided reassurance that the deleted file is in the Trash (should the user…well, you know!).

Addendum: notes
I think we should annotate our workflows. I know I'm obsessive about that but annotations (right click on any Alfred object and choose Edit Note…) are really useful. It's easy to forget what something does in a workflow and a note will remind us. If users also learn something from the notes that's a Good Thing too.

In conclusion
Palate cleansers, prompts, Dialogs Conditional, notifications and notes are all small items in the greater scheme of things. However, the small often makes the good…

Service charge included: no tip required.


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