Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The UX of Work Emails

The polite way to get a co-worker's attention to discuss an issue without bothering someone, is to send an email or some other form of asynchronous communication.

In recent years I have found that it is very useful to think, when writing an email, more like a UX designer than a writer. This is because an email is meant to induce behavior, specifically, in addition to getting my message across, I want a quick response.

So when composing an email I...
  1. Use bullet points: they make replying to different points in the email much easier, and requires less explaining when doing so.
  2. Highlight important stuff, and in general, make scheming through it easy and informative. 
  3. Use images when I can, because people love images and respond to them more than to text (as any Facebook page manager will tell you). This is not to say I start digging through image banks, rather - I use plenty of screenshots all the time (I use Shutter on Ubuntu and the Windows Snipping Tool on Win7). And yes, the occasional meme, if I have a big block of text with no relevant image to accompany it.
  4. For a long email - start it with a tl;dr version of it, summarizing the whole thing in a sentence or two. This works in a similar way to a news story's headline - it gives the appropriate framing and context.
  5. Use the subject line to help recipients sort through their emails. I believe that the subject line is usually ignored when actually reading an email. It is read when people sort through a long list of emails, or get a notification. It therefore should be short, and useful in reminding the reader how this email differs from others on the list.
  6. Use code that looks like code. I use this website to format the code parts of an email and make them look like code. It helps readability, and looks cool.
    int RandomInt() {
      return 4;
  7. Make it cross-platform. People read their emails on various devices, so I try to be very conservative with attachments, and limit them to PDFs and other easily-read formats, when possible. When I have some 3D model in a proprietary format that illustrates my point - I may send it, but I send an image of it as well, so that colleagues can make sense of it even if they are on the train, using their phone to read emails.
An image. Yeah, I know, amazing.

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