UX Design Project

Individually led

10 weeks

Spring 2017

Research Methods:


Bag Dumps

Empathy Mapping


Card Sorting

Ecology & Physical Maps


Large-scale Survey


Prototyping & User Testing (multiple rounds)


How might we bring organization and order into people's email inbox to help improve productivity and well-being?

This UX project lasted all semester, and as a result, has about 45 pages worth of content. Please click on the link at the very end if you wish to read the entire research book. 

A large part of this project was to find a problem to solve ourselves. A long and bumpy road led me to  email inboxes and how to fix their lack of organisation and hierarchy.


The synthesized research has been laid out chronologically for the sake of clarity. 


questionnaire & bag dump

This preliminary and dis-organized research taught me about people's daily habits, repetitive tasks, and frustrations.

After more interviews, I noticed some serious lack of organization and planning skills, that becomes a burden on their daily lives: bad time management leads to falling behind, lack of sleep and stress.

I started to wonder if perhaps people did not know how to organize their lives, and if this affected their state of mind.



I assumed that people had bad

management skills and that it bothers them greatly


Assumed that people plan out things they have to, such as homework, chores, meetings etc.


Assumed that what bothers me bothers

other people too when it comes to a lack of organisation


Assumed that most people need help organizing tasks and that they would take it if it were offered.

testing assumptions & card sorting

All the assumptions I tested turned out to be false. 

I was surprised to learn things like no one other than I plan their weekends, procrastination does not really bother people, and most people relax over the weekend while I never have a minute to myself. 

I finally understood that I was looking for a problem where there wasn’t one to find.

I had walked in with assumptions about problems - and solutions to them in the back of my head - that had all been proven wrong.


shadowing and surveying

After my pivot moment, I went back to my first interview with Marie-Anne, who had a very interesting daily experience with managing her emails.

I found her case fascinating because I had no strong assumptions about the subject. Managing my emails has always bothered me, but I always saw it as a necessary evil.

Shadowing activity revealed there was a generational split of attitudes towards managing emails

Quotes from survey:

Lack of organization between conversations, loosing track of threads, hard to automatically separate into folders

"I wish I could organize incoming emails in terms of priority"

The system automatically puts some important emails into junk mail box.”

The endless number of junk mail. It should be called zombie mail because you can’t get it to go away. You unsubscribe and it always seems  to come back"

pulling insights


The more emails one receives, the more time one wastes sorting them out and answering them.


If emails were sorted in folders automatically,
users would save time and frustration looking for them.


Spam and junk mail are a breach of privacy, especially when they were never given permission

hierarchy & priorities

Receiving many emails wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the important ones set themselves apart

state of mind

This can all become incredibly frustrating and put users in a bad mood, which in influences their productivity


After 6 rounds of sketching, rapid prototyping, and user testing, I moved on to more structured layouts of my ideas.

This prototype was tested with 5 participants. They received it on their phones. As they went through it, they were asked to pay attention to the new features present in the software updates, and talk out loud about their thoughts, and feelings.

This notification system was the most liked feature

“I love this organisation. If I’m at work I’ll leave all of the other folders for the end of the day.”

“The grey boxes are super effective and simple.” Quick way of recognizing emails.

Mixed feelings about AI finding the most relevant email in the thread and showing it.

“I like all of these except the spoken notification.
It wouldn’t work for me I think. I would prefer a special notification.”

“I like all of these except the spoken notification.“I really like all of these new features, they’re very effective. I think the Mail app does a very poor job at making inboxes clear and simple.”

“The “most relevant”
option doesn’t work for me because I don’t ever have the problem of an overwhelming thread.”

“I wouldn’t get any use out of the most relevant option because I don’t get that much mail.” “I like this option because my family will have really long thread emails and I get lost in them.”

“I wouldn’t use the spoken notification because I’d rather have a special notification sent to all my devices.” “I don’t know if I would use it but it works.”

Overall feedback was very positive with the exception of mixed feelings about the spoken notifications. This idea will be further explored in round 2 of prototyping.


The second prototype was run with 5 different users, and with the same display as the first. However, this time participants had to perform a task. This helped me understand what was wrong when users were looking for something specifc. Below are the three screens that caused the most interesting responses.

The task was to set a spoken reminder for a thread email.

The task was to find an email from Claire Duncan within a thread.

Users seemed to turn “most relevant” feature off when asked to find a specific message.


They explained that it was easier that way to see all emails in a list format.

Users had some trouble finding the spoken notification button. One explains he found it thanks to it’s location (next to other relevant buttons), and because it was a symbol he did not recognize.

Overall, the prototype was very well received.

The “most relevant” option turned out to be very useful when the participants were looking for a specific message.

After helpful feedback and some thorough consideration, I decided to change the “spoken notification” feature. Instead of having Siri speak out loud to the user, a ringtone-like alert will go off when the important email comes in.

Users did not like the idea of their phone speaking to them as it could be embarrassing if they

are in public. Instead, receiving the equivalent of a phone call is just as effective and doesn’t make the user uneasy.


UX Design Project

Individually led

10 weeks

Spring 2017

Research Methods


Bag Dumps

Empathy Mapping


Card Sorting

Ecology & Physical Maps


Large-scale Survey


Prototyping & User Testing (multiple rounds)