Being an e-mail reader in 2018

The email stares at me, encouraging me to not miss out on the latest Groupon deals. It pushes me to “HURRY!” and I cannot unsee it because of the bright colors and animations.

I’m exhausted, and annoyed with Groupon for making me hurry on a Friday evening, after an already long week. For what? Apparently some bedsheets that I can buy for $10 less. No thanks.

Underneath that email is another important one from my immigration lawyers. Have I seen their previous email asking me to send them documents? Of course I haven’t. Because, the tool that they are making me use to upload those documents is an absolute b*tch and spews out warnings and errors that are barely human readable and understandable. So I mark it as “Important”, and get on with my life.

When I am at my desk, working, I see like a billion emails popping up on my desktop, and I think to myself: if emails were people, would it be okay for them to interrupt me when I am working?

Let’s face it- email designers haven’t figured email out. I get it, it is not easy. The product designer needs to avoid the temptation of adding a bunch of features and exposing the marvels of technology, such as routing rules.

But, listen.

Needs of a mail reader before email existed:

a. Get a message from someone.

b. Post a message to someone.

b. Get magazines, coupons and other junk.

c. Throw away messages.

d. Share messages.

Needs of a modern day email reader:

Pretty much the same thing.

When needs have remained the same, why complicate things with email routing, rules, folders, “unsubscribe” and “mark as spam”?

Till date, I don’t know what “mark as spam” does. Does it prevent future spam emails from coming into my mailbox? Ummm.. I still see spam, people. Like, everyday.

Just because a technology “affords” certain actions, it does not mean that ALL of them must be exposed to the users of that technology. Show some restraint. Cut out the fat.

Either build an intelligent mailbox that truly understands me, or a really dumb one.

Don’t give me one in between. It is like autocorrect. The other day, I just wanted to note down some serial numbers (my mother’s bank account number which she was dictating to me over skype) quickly on my phone. WHY THE HECK WOULD YOU AUTOCORRECT THEM, APPLE IPHONE? You think you are so smart?

If I had to design a dumb mail box, I’d model it after the traditional mailbox.

2. Certain envelopes standout more than others. White envelopes and official looking envelopes, and ones with many stamps are usually fun and carry good news.

3. Flyers and other marketing material are made with a certain kind of shiny paper, with lots of images and text.

The problem with today’s gmail box is that there is no way to tell if a message is predominantly text or predominantly images.

3. Indicate the size of the email to me. Make certain rows bigger, and certain rows smaller. This would help me take the trashcan approach. Most important emails are short, in my experience.

4. Do not alert me when I get mail. I want to go to my mailbox and see them. I will get to it when I do. Calendar invites and Slack messages, I am sure, will fill the void. Seriously, the world is not going to end. It is asynchronous communication anyway. I know I can turn email alerts off. But, can I really? Really, I don’t want/need so much choice- my life involves making a ton of choices already. I don’t want to choose between a million different ways to configure my mailbox.

Basically, mailbox, just be dumb while also saving paper.

I'm a product manager living in San Francisco with a heart that refuses to leave Chennai! I enjoy writing about product management, technology, and food.

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