July 27, 2012
AOL, one of the most popular internet service providers of the 1990s that has recently fallen by the wayside, recently revealed a new web UI design for its email portal. AOL Mail users can log in to see a more streamlined GUI design, with a focus on cutting clutter and improving overall usability. As the first redesign of the company's mail portal since 2007, this is a much needed upgrade from the old design.
According to VentureBeat, the new look is much sharper, with improved "mini-apps" to assist users in managing their contacts, events, to-do lists and more. Joshua Ramirez, senior product director for AOL Mail, told the news source that this move wasn't only about improving the user experience of the email portal, but turning it into a growth product once more.
"People have email fatigue, so we wanted something more modern and lighter than in the past," Ramirez told VentureBeat. "We’re spent a lot of time with an emphasis on improving the design and experience."
AOL saw user counts for its email service drop drastically in 2009, when Gmail overtook it. Today, the service has only 25 million registered users. The new design improves navigation, makes text easier to read and was completely revamped graphically. Additionally, the company redesigned the adspace and actual mail area - imposing less on its users while still including room for promotional opportunities.
According to WebProNews, AOL also revamped the backend of its mail service, increasing speed and stability.
"The big takeaway here is that users’ needs and perception of email has changed significantly since the early days of AOL Mail but the email services and applications haven’t changed on the same scale," David Tempkin, senior vice-president of AOL Mail told the news source. "Today, email is much more functional than fun – it’s more about organizing, planning and managing one’s life vs. a fun communications tool as it was in the past."
In preparation of the website redesign, AOL launched an ethnography study, according to the news source, in order to find out how people actually use the service. They learned that users were unhappy with not only the design of AOL Mail, but the overall experience of using it, as well as the "formal" appearance of the service.
In addition to improving the web design usability, AOL has also expanded its namespace. freeing up usernames and giving its userbase better access to high-quality, in-demand addresses. All of these factors are meant to allow the company to compete better with the major names in email - Google's Gmail, Microsoft's Hotmail and Yahoo.
Tempkin told the source that this isn't a one time update either. The team plans to continue "pushing the design envelope" and improving the user experience of its services in order to meet the "ever changing needs and expectations" of its users.
With the user experience as the number one priority of AOL's new design for AOL Mail, the company is looking in the right direction. Any web GUI design needs to focus not only on being pleasing to the eye, but offering the services that users want in an intuitive and easy to find way. Complex processes that make it difficult to locate a desired function, or simply not providing certain functionality, drives down user adoption and ruins the overall experience.
As AOL's first major overhaul of Mail in five years, the company is on the right path to becoming a competitor in the email market again.