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Home screens have too many red badges. I have a new notification about enabling notifications. My email client counts three unread spam messages. The settings app has exactly one new system update. Twitter’s tab title tells of five new tweets. I follow hundreds of people — there are always new tweets.

Unread counts are everywhere in modern interface design. They are tasked with retention and growth, often implemented without restraint, and typically end up ignored by most users. But just as in computer science, when it comes to what’s unread, there are only three amounts that count: zero, one, and some.

Most unread counts should stay at zero. This is the kind of feature that works best as opt-in. Better to err on the side of not-annoying. Even if important, many prefer to check counts themselves, at set intervals. And instead of counting to one, show a dot. But not a dangerous red dot. Make it blue, or green.

If there are some notifications, show a more prominent dot or even an ellipsis. There’s probably no actionable difference between 4 or 8 or 16 unread items. However, if there are always some notifications, just remove the indicator. Nobody needs another ignored attention grabber. Leave the user alone.

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