Outline for User Research in the Field

In ITP, Project Development Studio, Thesis

When dealing with such a broad product like email, with some many different types of users and use cases, it’s really important to rely on user research to establish usability trends and patterns in the problems users face. I plan on interviewing people throughout the semester as my project progresses but would like to at least have done a nice handful of interviews to gain insight into the space before starting any design work. I’ll be using this post as an outline for my interview sessions.


User Attributes

Before I jump into the types of questions I’d like to ask, It’s important that I categorize each person with the following attributes:


  • Age
  • Employment/Educational Status
  • Mobile Proficiency
  • Social Media Proficiency
  • Mobile Email Client of Choice
  • Type of Email User

The last attribute is particularly important for me to contextualize my results. I will be using the six different types of email users that GMail identified in their research (unofficially), according to a blog that aggregated findings from multiple sources:


  • Unorganized – These users just have email to get emails. They aren’t labeling, they don’t delete, and they certainly don’t read everything. Their inbox is a jumbled mess of unread emails from all kinds of different senders. They most likely use it as a form of additional contact with other people and they absolutely hate email from anything else. Unorganized users may not even regularly sign in unless they are expecting an email from someone.
  • Organized – These email users are the ones that read an email and might take the time to sort each one out into labels and folders. They might take the time to go through the email if they need to discover more about whom it is from and what it is about. Email is checked regularly and they might even have multiple email addresses for different purposes.
  • Reader – These email users typically read every email by simply opening it. They don’t necessarily read the email or do anything after that, but they might mark it as unread to signify its importance. Readers simply open emails to remove that little number beside their inbox. They regularly check their email to avoid falling behind as it stresses them out to have too many unread emails in their inbox.
  • Deleter –  These users actively go through their inbox and delete junk mail and anything else they don’t want to read. Anything left not deleted signifies its importance or sense of being incomplete. Emails are deleted as they are addressed or as tasks are accomplished. Deleters are similar to readers in that they get overwhelmed if there are too many emails in their inbox.
  • Skimmer – This group of people regularly goes through their inboxes looking over from addresses and subject lines. Anything that catches their eye will be read, but if it doesn’t get read then its ok. They really don’t mind if they have hundreds or even thousands of unread emails listed in their inbox. If they need to find an email that they missed, they simply search for it. They regularly keep an eye on their email, but don’t need to spend much time with it since they don’t read everything.
  • Super User – These users have it all figured out. Email is a number one priority. Each email is marked with labels and sorted in folders and archived. Filters keep primary emails front and center, while other folders house emails from predefined lists or senders. They might know all the keyboard shortcuts to do this efficiently, and they consistently keep up inbox zero. Super Users know exactly what they have subscribed to and desire to read emails from these newsletters at some point but not necessarily right away.


  • How often do you check your email?
  • When do you typically check your email on your mobile phone?
  • What do you use it for primarily (i.e. work, friends ect)?
  • Please describe your process when visiting your inbox?
    • Is it systematic?
    • How do you read emails?
    • What do you do with an email once you have read it?
    • What do you do with emails that you do not want to read?
    • Please elaborate on your organizational model.
    • Do you use archive or folders?
  • Do you have a favorite interaction in the mail client you’re currently using?
  • Please share your main pain-points when using email.
  • Have you actively subscribed to newsletters or promotional emails?
    • Do you get value from any of these emails?
  • Do you use email on mobile mainly for reading or composing, or both? If both, what percentage of each?
  • What is the length of email that you would typically compose form mobile?

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