Slack Redesign
Slack is a popular enterprise instant messaging and collaboration platform that enables teams of all sizes to communicate and get stuff done. Given its widespread use among different industries and use-cases, I decided to conduct a short redesign in an effort to better meet people's needs.
ux design
How does Slack work?
Slack combines company-wide instant messaging capability with workplace software integrations to create a collaborative environment for teams large and small. Heralded as the first collaboration solution of its kind, Slack is used by some of the world's most innovative companies, especially technology companies.
Slack uses a unique design to make sure the right people are included in the right conversations. Communication happens in direct messages, channels, and threads, each having their own unique advantage.
One-on-one communication
Individualized communicate by instant message. Employees can reach out to anyone within the company.
Focused, group-based communication
Channels organize conversations by topic, team, or department. Conversations are siloed based on who needs to collaborate on what.
Extended discussion
Threads comprise of extended discussion within a channel. Instead of filling a channel with one discussion, users can turn a comment into a thread, and continue the discussion on a thread, separate from but embedded within the channel.
The Project
I planned a quick three day sprint to gather insight, devise a redesign strategy, and make a new design. Though it may be abbreviated, I hoped to complete the full design process in my redesign.
Contextual research
To begin my research, I began mapping out a handful of assumptions based on the following questions:
What do people love about Slack?
What do people dislike about Slack?
What about Slack is working in making teams collaborative?
What about Slack is not helping teams, or even hurting productivity?
With limited time, I went to the internet to see what people were saying about Slack. I compiled sentiments from professional reviews, user reviews, and blog articles. After some research, I laid out my assumptions about possible pain points in the Slack experience.
Minimal collaboration
Multiple people said that they felt like Slack was better designed for communication than collaboration.
Creates an always on culture
Slack makes communication so easy that some feel like they need to always be available.
It can be distracting
Most Slack channels workspaces include fun or off-topic conversations that can become distracting.
It's easy to lose information
With so much communication, decisions or important pieces of information can get lost in the shuffle.
Validating my assumptions
In an effort to test my assumptions, I developed a survey that would help me understand the experiences that a general populous of Slack users were having. In the end I gathered responses from 68 Slack users across a variety of industries, and held a number of contextual interviews as well.
Basic takeaways
The following stats helped me better understand how Slack was being used by the group of 68 respondents.
Use other communication tools as part of their workflow
Many respondents described similar communication systems: Slack for quick discussion, email for long-form discussion, and cloud storage tools for collaboration (ie. Drive, Github, Dropbox, Confluence, etc.)
Rely on other tools for the majority of communication
Are concerned that Slack hurts productivity at times
The most common distraction
The most common sentiment was that users were constantly checking channels over and over to make sure they didn’t miss anything, and it kept them from being productive.
Evaluating my assumptions
I designed my survey to give me a non-biased illustration of the truthfulness of my assumptions. Though these were all commonly shared issues, I wanted to identify what was actually keeping Slack users from being most productive.
Minimal collaboration
Respondents appreciated the role that Slack played in their teams' collaboration system.
Creates an always on culture
Slack users were concerned that they were going to miss communication so they checked their Slack often.
It can be distracting
Though they appreciated a little office banter, many found it difficult to sift the productive information from the unproductive.
It's easy to lose information
Only a small number of respondents seemed to have this issue.
What change would produce the most value?
My respondents had shared tons of ideas for new features, from refined search to mandated heads down time. Given my time restraints, I looked to identify the single change that would make the most difference.

Consequently, I decided to address the issue that my respondents were most vocal about, and it stemmed from my original assumptions - Slack users are often distracted by the fear of missing an important message or thread in their feed. This issue often takes one of two forms.
Mentions and DM's
Slack users are constantly checking the sidebar to make sure they don't have any unread mentions or DM's. These direct notifications appear in a red bubble icon and occur when an individual is directly messaged, referred to, or is included in a group that is referred to (ie. if someone types @here to notify the whole channel).
Channels with unread messages
If a user hasn't read all the messages in a channel that they are included in, they will be notified with bolded text in the sidebar and a blue notification at the top of the channel. These will not go away until messages have been read or the notification has been dismissed.
Its worth noting that users can customize their Slack notifications and tailor them to their needs. However, as nearly all of my respondents used Slack with its default settings and shared these problems, I thought it would be of the most benefit to add a new feature to the default that would provide a worthwhile solution.
A new kind of notification
In ideating a small change that would make a significant impact it was important that I didn't ruin what Slack did so well - provide fast and easy instant messaging for teams. Therefore, my solution needed to add to the experience without taking more time or breaking up the flow.

I focused on making a solution that would create a stress-free experience for the user by removing the fear of missing out that was plaguing them.
What if you could trust your notifications to deliver relevant info?
What if you weren't afraid of missing the important stuff?
What if you could focus and get lost in deep, productive work?
While you were away
I decided that the best way to remove the fear of missing important information was to devise a way to deliver the most important information in a quick and easy way.

My solution, "While you were away" shows the user a summary of the most important information that happened while they were working.
Defining "important"
The key to this solution is being able to credibly deliver the information that the user considers important. If they receive too much irrelevant info, they'll stop paying attention to it, but if they receive too little and miss something, then trust deteriorates and the user will go back to feeling like they have to check Slack every 15 minutes.
Important labels
"Important" labels make sure you don't miss important messages or interrupt your work to see irrelevant GIFs.

Team members can label a message as important if they know it needs to be a top priority to everyone involved. This can include direct messages or everyone on a channel or thread.

Users can also label different team members as important so they never miss a message from that person. This could include one's boss or a stakeholder.
Other signals of importance
Users can change their preferences to filter what they see in the "While you were away" feed. This could include popular messages - messages that receive many responses or replies, or all threads, as threads signal focused discussion on a single topic.

Though the question "what is important" goes much deeper and would benefit from more pointed research, I thought that these identifiers were a good start.
How it works
When a Slack user opens the app after being away, they will see the highlighted "While Away" tab in the sidebar. This includes all the most imporant information that they missed across all channels and messages.

A "While you were away" button is also included in the unread messages notification in every channel.
Getting up to date within a channel
If a user wants to see the most important things missed in a channel they can simply click the "While you were away" button in the missed messages notification, and they are shown all the most important messages that happened since they last opened the app.
All messages can be interacted with, including replies and reactions. Users can also tag a message as important if they feel it needs to be seen by the rest of the channel.
Users can update the preferences for what they see in each channel if they deem different things important for different channels.
Clearing all channels at once
In my research, many respondents reported having to read through every channel before they could clear all their notifications. With "While you were away" users can access all important messages in once place.
This way, users have all important messages in one place, so they can read through, take action, and move on.
Once all messages are taken care of, all notifications disappear and the user can get on with their work, confident that they are up to date.