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So my question was put on hold.

Call me a newbie (I still am after 5 years); fact is, I didn't read the box with the information containing the reason why my question was put on hold, until I accidentally found out, my eyes (that must have unconsciously blurred that area) accidentally stumbled upon the message.

Is it possible to make it a bit more obvious, so it doesn't look like it's an ad?

It looks like a spammy, trying-hard-to-blend-in kind of ad. Specifically, it'd look less spammy if there weren't funny hyperlinked words like vascowhite, Rikesh, HAL9000, Ahmed Siouani, 웃웃웃웃웃 confusing those that don't understand your "thing" (being sarcastic here).

It should be definitely moved up, closer to the title, which says [ON HOLD].

The message could be appended as a modification of the question itself in the body of the question, at the beginning, with a special background colour and keep the same font formatting as the rest of the content to make it more relevant to the topic.

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Interesting point - although moving the block to the top isn't an option IMO, as it makes it harder to scan what the question is about. I can't think of an obvious better solution - if you take away the grey background, it may no longer look like an ad, but it won't be recognizable either. –  Pëkka Jan 26 at 0:44
I personally often find the bigger something is the less I notice it. I fear the on hold reason suffers for this –  Richard Tingle Jan 26 at 1:54
Yes, indeed, the list of users who voted to close is the less relevant thing in the message. Too much blue and strange lingo distracting from the core. –  brasofilo Jan 26 at 2:32
I blame Google for acclimating us to information-dense, text-based advertisements. If only we'd stuck to animated monkeys... –  Shog9 Jan 26 at 18:08
So this is why people don't understand closing? –  Robert Harvey Jan 27 at 2:47
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3 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

If the placement and the ad at the top are big barriers to having newer users understand the notice, why not fix those for the person that asked the question?

If the person who asked visits the question, change the placement

Can't you do something funky to move the notice box to the top of the question if being browsed by the person who asked it? The only objection to moving it to the top was explained by Pekka as:

although moving the block to the top isn't an option IMO, as it makes it harder to scan what the question is about.

The person who asked the question doesn't need to scan it (they wrote it!), changing the display just for them would eliminate the concern and still give them the benefit.

Remove the ad at the top for the original asker

As Ilmari points out, the fact that the [On Hold] box resembles the ad at the top could cause confusion. The minimize that possibility, the ad at the top of the page could be removed for people who asked the question. While I'm sure this would have some impact on ad revenue, it would (hopefully) be minimal while making the message more clear.

The change may imply that the old ad has been replaced by a new ad (the close reason box), so a transition period showing both at the top may be more handy (or not).

Fix the formatting

Ilmari's covered this well.

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putting the message on top just for the author is a good compromise. –  Mauro Jan 27 at 3:37
Sounds like a good practical solution, though the inconsistency may be confusing as !@#~ –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 29 at 18:02
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You know, I think you do kind of have a point.

Screenshot of closed question, with ads and closing notice highlighted

Frankly, our current "on hold" notice design is horrible. Not only does it blend in with the ads with its boxy and text-packed design (which makes it look like a typical poorly designed banner ad, with too much content packed into too small a space), but the content formatting itself looks as if it was designed to minimize readability:

  • There's way too much big and bold text fighting for attention. Generally, whenever you have bold text wrapping over several lines, that's a sign that you're overusing it.

  • The most important part of the notice — why the post was put on hold — is buried in the middle of the excessive bold text, with no stylistic cues to easily distinguish it from the surrounding noise.

  • Meanwhile, the most visually attention-grabbing part of the notice, written in bold colored text, is not the closing reason, but the completely irrelevant names of the closers immediately following it.

  • Oh, and there's also some smaller text at the bottom, which might have some useful information, if anyone noticed it and bothered to read it. Although it's kind of confusing, since the two paragraphs in it read as if they were addressed to different people.

So I decided to try and see what I could do to improve the notice just by some basic CSS tweaks. Here's a quick first draft:

Mockup of an improved Stack Overflow "on hold" notice design

Highlights of some of the changes:

  • Removed the default bold styling from the <h2>. Actually, I think this would be an improvement site-wide, not just here. Left the actual closing reason bold so that it stands out.

  • Split the irrelevant meta-information (closer names and closing time) out of the heading to avoid cluttering it, and to create more negative space. Also added an "on" before the date for grammatical correctness.

  • Split the detailed closing reason into a <blockquote> to distinguish its content (which is mainly aimed at the OP) from the following footer note (which is aimed at all editors).

  • Lightened the background of the box and added a border instead. Besides allowing the blockquote the stand out from its surroundings, I feel it makes the notice more readable in general, and more easily recognized as a "notice" rather than, say, an ad banner.

  • Finally, to make the box a bit more eye-catching, and to make the "notice" association even stronger, I added an alert icon (stolen from Wikipedia, because I'm lazy) to the empty left margin.

Mockup of improved "on hold" notice, with notes added

I freely admit that this design is far from perfect — I'm a programmer, not a professional graphic designer. Given that Stack Exchange does have an in-house designer, my suggestion would to get Jin to find some time to at least fix the worst flaws of this awful piece of non-design. Feel free to make any (or no) use of my suggestions above while doing so.

(Or maybe the folks at User Experience might have some useful ideas...)

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I like it; the icon is what makes the big difference... –  ben is uǝq backwards Jan 26 at 13:58
^that and I like having the 'by users on date' separate and smaller. –  OGHaza Jan 26 at 14:25
The icon reminds me of those annoying "You have malware on your computer, click here to download Super-PC-Cleaner 7000" ads. I like the look in general, but I think the icon should be something less... scammy(?) looking. –  Geobits Jan 26 at 16:23
@Geobits: The trouble with finding a good "non-scammy" alert icon is that, if you do find one, the scammers will sooner or later start using it too. That said, the icon in the examples above is just the first more-or-less appropriate looking one that I found; I'm sure it could be better. –  Ilmari Karonen Jan 26 at 16:28
I get that, and I'm sure the team could come up with something that looks good. Just giving my initial impression of it. If the goal is to make it look less like an ad, that particular icon isn't helping. The other styling changes look good. –  Geobits Jan 26 at 17:38
I hate the icon. I like the rest of this. –  Shog9 Jan 26 at 18:10
There should be no icon at all, I believe –  Jan Dvorak Jan 26 at 21:20
The list of people who closed it is of almost no interest to readers. Move it right to the bottom. Otherwise, good suggestions. –  Raedwald Jan 26 at 23:03
definitely needs some <blink> –  Ben Lee Jan 31 at 16:43
But I agree here with both Shog9 and @Raedwald, I don't like the icon and I think the list of closers need even less emphasis. Something like this i.imgur.com/Ef4GNo4.png –  Ben Lee Jan 31 at 16:45
I agree with @BenLee 's last suggestion. It should be merged with the chosen answer! –  Mauro Feb 1 at 6:37
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I think the answer here to both this question and this one, Distinguish Votes to Close by Reason, could be to change the text to just simply say how many voters voted to close (basically so you'll know if you don't have five that a moderator jumped in). So something like:

Your question was put on hold as unclear what you're asking by 5 voters 3 mins ago

or if a mod does it unilaterally you could also do this

Your question was put on hold as unclear what you're asking by Fred Flinstone♦ 3 mins ago

You could also put more emphasis on it by capitalizing the first letter and putting the closers and date after a line break, like so:

Your question was put on hold as unclear what you're asking
by Fred Flinstone♦ 3 mins ago

Ultimately, I think that some better, more professional formatting would go a long way.

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You have a good point. I would only add that a banner that starts with "Put on hold..." doesn't make it at all clear that the banner is addressing the question being asked. Perhaps it should read Your question was put on hold as "unclear what you are asking." Because, y'know, grammar. –  Robert Harvey Jan 27 at 2:50
@RobertHarvey, valid point, will edit. –  Lance Roberts Jan 27 at 2:51
I think this could be combined with the other (excellent) suggestions in the answers here –  Jeff Atwood Feb 1 at 6:18
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