Apr 25, 2010

User behavior and product design

I use a Yahoo! mail account for my personal emails and I have subscriptions to many group emails. Over the past few months, my mailbox has been overflowing with many unread emails as I tend to scroll through the list and read only the most important ones at the beginning of my day. I have unsubscribed from many group lists to keep the incoming information under control. However there are some groups in which I might get a few important messages occasionally which I do not want to miss out. So I decided to create a few filters and organize my inbox.

This is exactly THE time in the lifecycle of product-user interaction when one starts to think about filters in a mail product - when there is a bunch of unread mails and the user feels that it is getting unmanageable and wants to get organized; not when the time he/she creates a new mail account and immediately starts to create filters.

Coming back to my problem, I located the "Filter emails like this" and created a filter. So far, so good. But to my utter disbelief, I couldn't see the "run filter" or similar such option. I wondered if this feature was hidden somewhere that it wasn't evident to me. After googling for a bit, I found out that such a feature doesn't exist in Yahoo! mail. Disappointed with the lack of this feature, I dropped the effort of organizing my inbox.

This experience triggered a thought process of how one should go about integrating user behavior into the product design. Before designing a product's feature or even a minor functionality, ask yourself these questions -
1. When will my user explore this specific functionality?
2. What are the circumstances under which this particular feature will be used?
3. What is the motivation factor that will enable the user to try out this feature?

Evaluate the physical circumstances (place of usage), the psychological state of the users (positive or negative frame of mind) and the expected outcome (not only from a product point of view but also from the user's intended action).

More to follow on this topic.

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