A New Email Model

In ITP, Project Development Studio, Thesis

Background and Concept

Starting in college, email becomes one of the most prominent communications channels we use to interface with work colleagues, as well as friends and family. People devote so much time and energy to email, so it surprises me to see such little variance in the email products that are available on the market. Even the hyped up release of newer mail apps like Mailbox still operate virtually within the same model of how we understand email but just have slightly different interaction patterns.


I have to credit my former advisor for POW WOW (and former ITPer), Aaron Urmacher, for first planting the idea of thinking about email differently, and particularly, applying a more visual approach to email. I’d been marinating on his words for over a year and eventually identified what I see as a pretty significant opportunity. I want to frame emails in the context of rich-media feeds (similar to what you’re used to with social networks) to add the frictionless consumption of large amounts of content, rich-media prioritization and the immersive experience that you get with a feed when executed properly. This app could provide an alternative to the utilitarian, chore-like email experiences that currently exist. Another positive of adapting emails to a feed is the potential for adding value to emails that have little to none to begin with—newsletters and promotional emails. By parsing these emails, I can surface the top article from a newsletter or top product from an e-commerce promotional email and present to the user as it’s own card in the feed. This would integrate the newsletters and promo emails in a seamless way where they are easily consumed and just as easily ignored with no need to open them.


My goal for Project Development Studio is to take a very formal design approach to this project, which will include research, usability testing and a whole-lot of iterations (See plan below for greater detail). I will be taking a mobile-first approach and I hope to have a high-fidelity interactive prototype on mobile by the end of the semester. This would put me in a good position to implement the app as a thesis project.


elevator pitch

I’m creating an email app for mobile that looks to challenge the existing model of creating and consuming emails. By taking a visual approach, I will surface emails in a format much more similar to social feeds, which allows for frictionless consumption of large amounts of content, rich-media prioritization and provides an immersive experience.


Email is a massive, layered and convoluted product challenge and I realize that how I render emails is only a part of the solution. I will also need to look at what sort of organizational model to employ, as well as provide incentives to increase engagement using persuasive design. My research phase will inform much of the decisions on these.


Some Early Sketches


Rough Plan

  1. Initial research/canvasing
    • Come up with a proposed target demo and use-cases and have research findings inform the evolution of these
    • Identify which groups/types of people I want to interview
    • Ask them questions to greater understand process, pain point and opportunities regarding email.
      • Determine what kind of email users there are?
      • What are their consumption patterns?
      • What is their organizational process?
      • How do they typically compose?
      • What are their biggest pain points?
  2. Based on research, clearly identify:
    • personas/target users
    • trends in research by affinity diagraming
      • customer problems
      • what problems/angles are worth pursuing for my product
  3. Competitive audit
    • social products
    • email products
  4. Design first pass
    • includes email cards
    • feed
    • compose view
    • individual email experience
    • tabs/organizational modal
  5. Design full mobile flow
  6. build interactive prototype
  7. usability testing
  8. affinity diagram and repeat 6-8
  9. Polish high fidelity prototype


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