IBM Design

IBM Design
Iconic Projects
July 14, 2014

Inbox, meet IBM Mail Next

By Kieran Cannistra, Storyteller Extraordinaire

Consider, for a moment, one of the battle formations employed by Napoleon Bonaparte: the column formation. The tactic drove long, narrow processions of soldiers against and through wider, shallower enemy lines. In a successful attack, enemy lines were broken in two, and soldiers from the column could take advantage of the resulting confusion and surround the opposing unit.

Now, consider your inbox: An endless onslaught of information and requests, none of which is necessarily relevant to you, and all of which advance upon you steadily. Eventually, the inbox formation breaks us all down; confused, tired and surrounded, we admit defeat.

“Remember that email you sent asking someone to do something? Me either.”
—Dom Nicastro, CMSWire

That feeling of being closed in by an inbox that’s trying to kill you? Kramer Reeves, Director of Messaging and Collaboration Solutions, calls it “personal email debt.” This is the weight that accumulates as people use email to assign each other tasks—tasks we lose amid the wave of newsletters, announcements, notifications and other random stuff that washes into our inboxes. Small wonder we don’t love the inbox.

Focus on work, not your inbox

There is, of course, hope—even Napoleon had his Waterloo. Inbox, meet IBM Mail Next, the “radical email interface rethink” debuted at IBM Connect 2014 and coming from IBM later this year as part of the IBM Connections portfolio.

The vision for IBM Mail Next is simple: deliver a powerful cloud-based experience optimized for web and mobile that allows users to focus on top priorities, find and share content, and take control of action items. Kramer promises you’ll be able to “focus on work, not your inbox,” as his team works to satisfy two mandates:

1. Deliver a place in which we love working 10+ hours each day.

2. Create a system that works for us, rather than one we struggle to make work.

So where does a team start when tasked with rethinking email?

IBM Design Thinking and a renewed focus on the user

In July 2012, the IBM Design organization was created with the mission “re-thinking everything we do from the standpoint of our clients, and intentionally designing products and services for the people who use them.” In support of this mission, the organization devised the IBM Design Thinking framework, based on design thinking methods pioneered by Stanford’s Designers follow IBM Design Thinking to understand users, explore concepts, prototype designs and evaluate them with users and stakeholders—and it is this framework Kramer’s team used to consider how email, of all things, could become a great user experience for our clients.

“For 20 years,” Kramer told CMSWire’s Dom Nicastro, “email has essentially remained the same: communication that arrives in chronological order that users must manually prioritize, preventing productive work from occurring. This is an opportunity for the market, at the same time that social business is becoming a mandate around the world.” By throwing out traditional notions of email and focusing anew on users’ needs and concerns, the IBM Mail Next team was able to think about how we work, rather than how we manage email.

I’ll be sharing more about the team’s innovations (and their design process) in upcoming installments in this series, but some highlights of IBM Mail Next’s capabilities include:

Get a quick view of your day

The Day At A Glance, Upcoming Meeting, and Calendar bar features give you a quick overview of your day, and a more detailed view of what you have coming up next.

Tune out the noise

Copied on a thread that has little (or nothing) to do with you? Mute it. (And bring it back later, if you feel like it.)

Preview all data associated with a colleague

Not all important interactions take place in email. See the meetings, chats, people, documents and other data that you and a colleague have in common.

See what needs doing

Can’t remember what you said you’d take care of? Can’t remember what you assigned to others? Track mail-based actions in one screen, with the most pressing priorities listed first. Easily see who owes you a response and to whom you owe responses.

Find information fast

Need to follow up on an order but can’t recall immediately the 72-digit purchase order number? Meeting a client but can’t recall the address? Quickly—I’m talking blazing fast—search and filter results and find exactly—I’m talking exactly—what you need.

Go mobile. Or not. Whatever, it’s up to you.

IBM Mail Next is optimized for mobile and web, and delivered in the cloud. Work where and how you want to work, without tying yourself to a particular device, platform or browser.

So what’s next?

The IBM Mail Next team is working through ideas for new capabilities and enhancements, all of which we’ll cover in this series. To be sure you get the latest information about IBM Mail Next and its progress, follow Kramer on the Social Business User Group blog, where you’ll hear about events like the July 23 demo, Moving ahead with Mail Next. Watch the demo replay here.

Meet the team

Kramer Reeves

Product management executive


Scott Souder

Product management lead


Carolyn Pampino

Design executive


Margo L. Ezekiel

Design lead


Lily Ryzebol

Engineering executive


Andrew Davis

Engineering lead