August 24, 2022

The Importance of Empty States

How can you show a product's value, when there is nothing to see?

How can you show a product's value, when there is nothing to see?

Most tools show you nothing at all when there is no data. After all, there is nothing to see!

In the real world, we never show nothing as nothing. For example, when buying an apartment building that is yet to be built, you don't look at pictures of empty space midair. Instead, you see visualizations of the promised apartment, in all it's glory, that will be there one day.

In software too, there is a fundamental danger in showing nothing. If users evaluate your tool in an environment that is "too healthy", they'll never see the value your tool can provide. How can you show your tools promise, at a moment when it isn't doing anything at all?

In the Developer-Focused Go-To-Market Playbook, Sam Richard from Open View Partners mentions a few different strategies. For example, here is the "dummy data" strategy that uses:

Dummy data in

When designing, we decided on a different approach. We wanted to convey the promise of what we can show you, without filling your production system with dummy data.

For example, when you open the "Timeline" screen we want to convey the following message: You can see every alert and Kubernetes change that occurred in any of your clusters. What better way to show that than an image of a real world example?

Full Prometheus AlertManger history in

The same principle applies to screens where we need user input to show something meaningful. For example, here we show you what you can achieve if only you click a few more buttons.

Tracking drift in Kubernetes clusters

Are these solutions perfect? Absolutely not! No doubt by the time you read this, those screens in our product will look different. Good products are built with experimentation and data-driven measurements.

But whatever you do with your empty screens, do something! Don't leave users staring at an empty screen.

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