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Carolyn Pampino, Design Director of Collaboration Solutions, IBM

Carolyn Pampino, Design Director of Collaboration Solutions, IBM

By Carolyn Pampino

We may be drowning in a deluge of email, but our research has found that email is not dead. The tools we use to access our email, however, are outdated and were invented before the word “Internet” became a household name. Instead of our managing email, what we need is a better way to communicate, which is focused on deeper engagement and better outcomes.

Social tools, and mobile and cloud technologies have significantly changed the expectations of consumers about mail, social interaction and other collaboration tools. We bring these expectations to the workplace. While at work, many of us experience significant information overload from disconnected applications built for an earlier era.

When it comes to the technology we use, we want our work experiences to mirror the slick experiences we have in our personal lives, while our organizations want tools with company-wide security and scalability.

IBM Verse, due next week, is a first-of-a-kind platform, where the users’ experience are grounded in conversations between people. It brings together messaging, social collaboration, analytics with web and mobile access into a single collaboration environment. There are three concepts behind the design of IBM Verse:

1. A system that knows me: By quickly finding and prioritizing the tasks that matter most, the built-in intelligence analyzes users’ behaviors and preferences to personalize — and eventually predict — an employee’s social mail experience.

2. Clarity over clutter: An intuitive “at-a-glance” user interface designed for all mobile and web environments helps users quickly take action on content and conversations previously scattered across multiple tools, such as email, calendar, to-dos, social networks, chats, online meetings and documents.

3. From “Me” to “We”: To be more effective, we need context around the people and teams involved in any task or project. Users can visualize employee profiles, understand relationships between individuals and teams. Blogging is as easy as sending an email. File sharing that uses cloud storage is a natural part of the experience and users can preview a file before downloading it.

This project was one of the first outcomes from my company’s $100 million investment in design innovation. What our designers tackled wasn’t just about redesigning an in-box. As the research began, the team asked the question, “What is the real problem to solve?” The answer became apparent: Corporate mail users were a captive audience suffering with antiquated tools. We started with the in-box because it’s perhaps the greatest source of pain, and it’s familiar to everyone in the workplace.

Our research led us to an obvious conclusion: the experience had to center on people and the conversations we are having, and not on a flat list of impersonal messages. We saw lost productivity as users scanned dense inboxes for messages from the people that mattered to them. More time was lost when users had to enter a separate corporate directory to look up unfamiliar names on a message. We started exploring human and social connections. This led us to surface relationships between people to give users the ability to identify the people who mattered and build their networks right in context of the tool. People-to-people communications became a pivotal focus in our designs.

We saw lost productivity in “triaging” large inboxes, where finding the important messages either involved hunting through a long list, or deleting the unneeded messages until the important ones were found. We didn’t want to automatically separate messages as this would effectively create multiple inboxes to manage. Instead, we started thinking about how we could infuse analytics to give users an environment that’s smarter and more intelligent in how it surfaces information.

We also found that 25 to 40 percent of messages are tasks to complete, and yet these get lost in the constant stream of new messages. Our goal was not only to help the user remember the messages that needed action, but also to be able to track messages that are awaiting someone else’s action. The goal was to guide users intuitively to the most important tasks or actions, while also providing deeper context about the people and teams collaborated with most frequently.

Attention to the visual design was also critical. A visual design forms a users first impression. This is one of the first projects to apply the new IBM Design Language, which is a set of guidelines created to communicate my company’s brand image through product experiences. Our goal is to design for experiences that work together, work in similar fashion and work for our users.

Beyond how it looks, we now have the opportunity to have mail act more like a personal assistant, get to know us and what we think is important, the key people and groups that we interact with, while at the same time, allowing professionals to concentrate on work that really matters.

This story first appeared on in February.

Join the conversation at #NewWayToWork

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