thinking interfaces, Thoughts

Thinking about email ….

It’s been a few months since the video and thoughts around Persona (an email client I designed with Seckin and Marco at Ciid) were made online. We spoke about the need in bringing personality and people into the forefront of mail and the fact that it needed a radical rethink, both in the UI and philosophy, from legacies dating from the desktop metaphor and the chronological presentation of mails like in a spreadsheet.

Since then there have been some really interesting developments in this field of communication  (and our project too, which soon might be more than a concept ) that makes me feel the future of email is promising and is going to be ‘un’broken. Part of the optimism is in the fact that are some radical mail rethinks which seem to be on the verge of appearing in the market simultaneously.


Fluent (being built by the guys who were part of the Google wave team), at first glance seems to be an incremental yet remarkably different approach to email, with all the familiar features to email co-existing with a visually pleasing UI ( though they seem to have a lot of work to do with respect to semantics in certain areas of the interface) They have an interesting demo, which can be played with here.


A mail client as an assistant, with their chief pitch being emails as simple & pliable ‘TO-DO’ lists. This is an interesting approach by Josh Milas and Alex Obenauer , who got their project funded at KickStarter recently. Kudos to them !


According to their pitch, the mail client focuses on people and sociality as the primary drivers and viewpoints for email. The team led by Alexander Mimran and Michael Lawlor , who previously created the ‘Penzu’ app , have not made any screenshots for the interface readily available as of now.

You can have a glance at their pitch at the ‘Launch’ conference this year, in this video here , as it showcases some of the innovative features they are coming up with and also provides a sneak peek into the interface, which looks quite radical for an email client.


So where is email headed? It seems that there is an overall push to get out of the spreadsheet mode. which is heartening. Visual interfaces too are undergoing a world of change, with a tasteful treatment of content, where it was authored and most importantly by whom.

From the incremental UI changes brought on by the ‘Sparrow‘ application we may see a powerful shift with Fluent and Minbox . This is because they seem to be using models of interaction which are becoming familiar through instant messaging in Facebook etc. Mail has been shortened to snippets of conversations in most accounts, when personal correspondence is considered.

‘Mail Pilot’ seems to focus on the meaning behind the content and the action that is supposed to be associated with it, a task based approach, which may work for both personal as well as business correspondance. This is very different from the radical ‘Minbox’, where the focus and groundwork is based on the ‘who’, the author and the meaning behind where the mail came from. Hence the focus falls on people and sociality, which changes the face of presentation and makes it truly radical (This seems to be closet to the thought behind ‘Persona’).

But this has the hidden danger of bifurcating the email client market into the power/business users, who might still need the raw functionality of Apple Mail or Outlook, and the generic non-power users for whom simplicity matters.

Only time will tell which of these applications will grind out in the competition (if there is one). There is also the issue of multiple platforms and devices that these clients have to operate under, which will be crucial for success. It might be a testament to the changing times and preferences and needs of people in the matter of interpersonal communication. This I think makes it truly interesting and worth looking out for.


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