What an inbox of today and the future could look like? I set out to find out and rethink email as we know it today. The objective for this project was to create a more intelligent and personalized email experience.
First, it was important to understand how people use emails, what are the things people like about email, and what are the problems people face when using emails.
I started out by doing primary and secondary research and collecting some data about emails.
The average person gets 90 emails per day and checks email 15 times a day.
People spend almost 30% of their work managing emails.
Spam makes up to 45% of all emails.
92% of US adults use email to communicate with others.
There are about 2.5 billion email users worldwide.
Gmail now has more than 1 billion monthly active users.
75% of Gmail users now access their accounts on mobile devices.
I was curious to find out how many emails people get for each purchase, bill payment, event or trip. After going through the inbox and doing some simple math, it soon became obvious that
Nearly every interaction we have online generates an email. Hence, a large number of the emails we receive are simply notifications or updates that don't require any action.
The next step was to identify the main types of emails and the key email interactions.
Types of emails
- Friends and family
- Clients and coworkers
- Newsletters & Updates
Key email interactions
- Receiving notifications
There are tons of email and messaging apps. I identified the key direct and indirect competitors based on the user base and popularity on the App Store.
Strengths & Weaknesses
This analysis revealed that the key strengths of direct and indirect competitors are features related to organization as well as speed and how easy it is to use their products.
However, email still is a very manual tool.
The problem of confusing and cluttered inbox still remains with long threads of emails that users have to search through.
The competitive analysis also revealed that some of the weakest areas when it comes to email clients are search and notifications.
Email notifications are still acting as signposts that simply state the fact that you got a new email. There's also a problem with the number of notifications people receive. I saw a huge opportunity to make email notifications more time-sensitive, relevant and personal.
Most of the email apps have limited search queries where you can only search for keywords. Some apps have more advanced search that allows users to search for files.
The team at Inbox discovered that:
I saw a big opportunity to make search a powerful tool that can help users quickly and easily find anything they need in their emails.
To gather direct insights from people I ran an online survey with 40 participants. The survey consisted of 10 open-ended and close-ended questions. The goal of the survey was to understand how people use emails in their daily life, the pain points people have with email and what value email brings to people.
Key pain points with emails:
- Too many of them
Key things people like about emails:
- Keeps all communication in one place
- Storage of a high amount of information
- Is more professional
- No pressure to respond immediately, unlike text messages
- Sending attachments
Identifying the key problem with emails was a challenging part. Users named spam and email overload as their biggest pain points. However, I wanted to find out if that was the root issue that needed to be addressed. After going back to the research, I discovered that the key problem is time. Managing and cleaning up your inbox takes a considerable amount of time and this is what makes this experience so frustrating for people.
Creating personas helped me stay focused on the users I was designing for. All the three personas represented the main target demographics:
- Early adopters
- Freelancers and contractors
In order to improve the experience I wanted to first understand what is the current user journey when interacting with emails. What are the extra unnecessary steps that could be removed to simplify the experience? What steps in the journey could be automated based on the user's behavior and habits?
Proposed Solution 1
One of the challenges was to think of ways to reduce the amount of emails people get every day. This made we wonder what if all these emails could be intelligently grouped into fewer smarter emails that contain all the information about a single order, event, trip... you name it? I called them streamlined emails.
Streamlined emails are emails that are self-generating and self-updating. They automatically compile related emails into one email and keep updating it. Once the email is no longer relevant (eg. the trip is over, offer has expired, event is gone) it gets automatically put it into the archive.
Proposed Solution 2
Emails contain a huge amount of data.
Emails know your interests, where you travel, where you live, where you get your hair done, where you shop, what you buy, what events you go to and so much more.
And most of the time this data is sitting in our inboxes without much use. I started wondering how can we take all those emails that are sitting in our inbox and have them provide value to the users?
How can we use all the data that emails contain to make email experience truly intelligent and personal?
This led me to a new solution of creating a feed of the most important emails. And deliver that information in a digestible and bite size format to save people time on checking it and to reduce cognitive load.
To understand what types of emails people consider important, I did a small card sorting study. This knowledge helped guide the types of cards that are shown to the users when they open the app.
Flight booking confirmation
Work related communication
E-ticket for an event
Bill payment reminder
Return label for a package
Hotel reservation reminder
In order to simplify the experience I decided to focus on the key features: streamlined cards, intelligent search and smart notifications. This also helped keep the app navigation simple.
Users can search for anything in their emails in a chat-style search interface. This type of conversational search can handle complex search queries and improve the results the more users use it.
Users can quickly action on the information (pay the bills, look up drop off locations for a package, buy a ticket etc) via third-party integrations.
Users can pin the most important cards and get back to them later with one tap.
Rather than overloading the users with irrelevant notifications, the app will only send notifications that are location and time-sensitive and relevant.
This is an ongoing project. Stay tuned for the complete project soon.