Under the guise of productivity, we've seen various changes to e-mail over the years. Much of that has focused on the inbox, but have those changes improved our experience or reduced our time engaged in lieu of the productivity sought? The co-founders of Cloud City Labs thought we could be doing better in that respect. I joined the team to help lead the discovery, definition and design of a new communication platform to help heavy e-mail users reclaim their work time.
If you ask any person, they can probably come up with a least one or two "problems" they encounter while using e-mail. The co-founders of Cloud City Labs were no different. The platform in more recent years has become the app you love to hate (but you can't live without).
The ubiquity of and the protocol which e-mail uses is most responsible for the the slow progress we've seen to the platform. When you have to rely on the same old tracks to move your freight, you have little in the way of ability to innovate. At CCL, we knew to enable some of the changes we wanted to make we'd have to jump the tracks. Though we first needed to know which direction to point ourselves.
Upon joining the team, there had been no formal research done. Given a condensed timeline, I choose to focus on talking with e-mail power users. I recruited individuals for interviews, who spent more than 3 hours a day using e-mail, managed other individuals and who believed e-mail inhibited aspects of their formal job.
Utilizing pain points identified in the interviews, I created a survey that I sent out to a broader group of individuals to evaluate these initial findings to help decide which areas our focus should be given to.
After gathering responses, I wrote high-level How Might We questions to focus as we generated ideas targeting the pain points revealed from our initial interviews. These included:
The following work reveals a number of core features I developed that were included in the initial alpha product and additional conceptual works that rounded out our vision for the platform.
One of the pain points identified through my research were the issues people had in reading their emails because of the blockquote content clutter. On mobile in particular this is cumbersome as many conversations would be littered with previously read content that would have to be scrolled through.
While partially an etiquette issue, this problem is perpetuated by the protocol of e-mail. As a user with a need to reply, our last concern is conversation etiquette regarding previous content. If someone needs an answer we must deliver. Other clients have taken to surpressing this content in response, but what could it look like if we cut it off clean?
In addition to cleaning up conversations, I asked how might we start to encapsulate the history and content of a conversation and make it easier to find a response or a file without opening up multiple messages in search of them?
In my research, people were often frustrated by searching for a nugget of information or a file a colleague had delivered via e-mail. While many would suggest search as the best option, many end users would initially use search then have to dig through a conversation thread to find the file.
I saw in this as an opportunity to collate the content of a conversation into a readable and searchable synopsis, easily accessible to the end user.
In certain cases, e-mail might be the easiest method to gauge the sentiment from a large amount of co-workers. Though in most cases that means receving multiple distracting replies, which you then have to collect results manually.
What if you could just send a simple poll, that would unobtrusively collect those results as you focus on other work?
In the realm of customer service, response speed is a highly valued metric. One of our interview participants was working at a startup answering general and support questions. They would receive multiple requests for support each day that shared similar answers. In answering, they often used a Word document to copy and paste content into a message, taking them out of context and back in.
What if you could create and insert content that you could use repeatedly to speed up your responses?
E-mail hasn't been always friendly to meeting scheduling. Commonly, users would have to check their calendars, remember the times and then type them out as suggestions to another and send the email. Using clips as an inspiration, I devised a simple text query method that would request and invoke and object to shorten this process.
Depending on a users workplace model, they may be the recipient of many notification e-mails. While the intent is to keep you on top of happenings, each carries the same weight in your inbox, but they aren't all equal and none are truly actionable.
So I asked, how might we make categories of messages actionable and provide the easiest path to completion?