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How Slack co-designed its better update yet with customers

Anna Niess and Zack Sultan
Story by
Anna Niess and Zack Sultan

Back in March, Slack launched a cogent update to Slack’s design. It wasn’t just one change, but a afterlife of them—some shiny new things (channel sections!), some old things in new places, and a accepted spring charwoman of advice architecture.

These changes addressed a basic claiming that had grown artlessly with Slack: with size comes complexity. As altered artefact teams added new capabilities piecemeal, Slack started to feel not automatic for people trying it out for the first time.

Our header alone had over a dozen places to click, and included two search bars:

A dozen places to click the top nav in Slack

And our menus were a bit sprawling:

Sprawling menus in Slack

Even people who had used Slack for years often didn’t know about able appearance because they were buried away in odd places. And this growing tangle made it harder for us to build new things; we couldn’t find places to put them.

This type of botheration is hard to quantify and measure. We weren’t going to solve it through A/B testing tiny changes or intellectualizing over it in a room with a bunch of sticky notes. Instead, we took it to people in the real world.

We tried a new way of alive with our users, bringing them into every stage of the design process. Calm we were able to prototype, build and refine our designs to create a simpler and more organized Slack.

Assembling the team

We put calm a small team of designers, engineers, advisers and artefact managers to create rough, “throw-away” prototypes. In the beginning, we put aside our antecedent ideas about what was capital in Slack. Because Slack’s mission is to make work easier for people, our allegorical assumption was to limit the choices addition using Slack might have to make. This meant stripping away as much of the interface as possible, and reorganizing it piece by piece.

The action was quick and dirty: We did our best not to hem and haw over capacity and minute decisions. This reductive access led us to some very arresting but abstinent prototypes.

Untested Slack prototypes

While these seemed tidier, we wanted to make sure they were absolutely better: more accessible and useful for people trying to get things done in Slack. So we turned to barter for a gut check.

Co-designing with customers

In the early days of Slack, we were very agnate to many of our users—tech-y people alive at mid-sized companies. But these days people use Slack at all kinds of organizations and roles, from dairy farms and dentists to large retailers and banks. To make Slack simpler for everyone, we needed to hear from a broader group.

In order to aggregate feedback, we worked with barter the best way we knew how: through a shared channel. It was eventually shared with around 100 users from our champion network, apery dozens of organizations around the world.

The pilot access provided a way for us to hear unfiltered input quickly. Their aggregate acquaintance let us see where our first ideas weren’t quite right, and refine our design to advance the experience.

Among the many things we learned:

Member count is critical

As we attempted to strip down the UI, we anticipation that access member count could be safely tucked behind a click. We ample it was extra noise that you didn’t need all the time.

In practice, member count provides a acute sense of “reading the room,” which gives an important clue about how to behave.

After abbreviation our designs to almost nothing, we gradually rebuilt them to find a antithesis we felt was just right:

People will find the things they  want

When we alien the adeptness to adapt channels, we were anxious that people wouldn’t easily find out about it. At first, we added a big, top-level button.

However, we underestimated how much people absolutely wanted the capability. With just a bit of education, we saw associates of the pilot learn to create custom sections admitting the fact that it was tucked away.

An in-product prompt to create custom sections in Slack

History and aeronautics was best accepted at the top of the app

This was the better abandonment from our antecedent interface, and it didn’t go after debate.

The adapted aeronautics bar in Slack

We found that people who work at large companies with lots of active conversations often rely on search or ?K to get around the app—much like a browser. Our accumbent bureaucracy often left us disturbing with the right adjustment for search. For the past year or so, we’ve had two altered search inputs that do about the same thing. It wasn’t our favorite.

Our first ancestor was controversial, and there was strong acknowledgment from both sides.

Pilot barter accommodate acknowledgment on the revised Slack aeronautics bar

While this is a big change for Slack’s platform, it traded screen real estate for better analogous the expectations of new and absolute users alike. In the end, we gained a strong perspective: go for accessible over clever, and don’t reinvent the wheel.

Dialogue was crucial

Having anybody in a shared access meant that, unlike a accepted pilot, we could have a free-form chat with people as they used it over weeks and months.

Pilot barter accommodate acknowledgment in a shared Slack channel

We abstruse from them, and they were able to build off each other.

In some cases, we were able to hear acknowledgment and ship a new adaptation within a day, to see if it felt any better. Collaborating in real time gave us a chance to co-design Slack with people who use it, and it made our work a lot better.

Learning from beginners

New users test the bigger Slack experience

Even as things bigger for accustomed users, we needed to make sure Slack was absolutely easier for people just starting out.

We worked with our analysis team to run a “benchmarking” study that pitted the old Slack acquaintance adjoin the new one. For each version, we asked people who had never used Slack to complete a few important tasks, like sending a message, searching, and award and abutting channels.

In our first test, the after-effects were mixed. While the new design beat the old one in a few categories, new insights popped up. To name a few:

Floating buttons definitively aren’t a thing on desktop

We tried to cleverly nestle our new compose button at the bottom of the sidebar. We anticipation it would stand out to new users, and accommodate a chance to match the design with mobile. But our participants absolutely abandoned it. So we zapped it to the top of the sidebar, where people allegedly found and accepted it.

Two accessible placements for the new Compose button in Slack

Right-clicking on the desktop isn’t just for power users

In reality, it’s often the first or second thing people do to take an action. After seeing people trying to right click in testing (and accepting acknowledgment from our pilot), we created a more absolute design for right-clicking throughout the app.

Collapsible views should start open

In the new design, we brought important appearance like our people agenda and saved letters into the top of the sidebar. To keep things minimal, we started with the view collapsed. But we bound found that folks alien with the artefact were missing a big befalling to learn about these capabilities. So we absitively to start with them open for everyone.

Two approaches to the collapsible aftereffect design in Slack

After we worked through dozens of hiccups, our second test beat or tied the absolute design. With that (along with agnate studies with “average” Slack users) we felt more assured that what we were absolution was more useful, and easier to understand.

Getting the capacity just right

As the design came together, we left some time to polish some little bits and bops:

Our new save-a-message button does a fancy little boing when saving and unsaving. Cute!

We aesthetic our new top bar to feel a little more at home on Windows and Mac desktops.

Slight differences in the top Slack aeronautics bar for Windows and Mac

Our assorted jump-to buttons now match one another.

We adapted and broadcast our set of congenital themes to take advantage of the new top bar for both the minimalist and the maximalist.

A alternative of visual themes included in the new Slack experience

At Slack, we take design changes seriously. Because people are highly affianced on our platform, spending an boilerplate of nine hours every banal affiliated and around 90 account actively using it, we admit that we need to be extra accurate when making even the aboriginal change to their alive environment. People choose to use Slack and we don’t take that for granted. Even the most well-intentioned changes to an app you use every day can leave you with the astonishing activity that someone’s reorganized your room. Worse even, the adjustments can feel useless: change for change’s sake.

At the end of the day, we think this update takes us advisedly toward a simpler, more organized Slack that will set the stage for more agitative improvements to come.


Appear September 18, 2020 — 06:30 UTC

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