Microsoft last week gave users a glimpse of what’s coming in the next iteration of its popular web mail service. I personally cannot wait to start using the improved experience, highlights for me include customizable mail filters, more streamlined interface that better integrates with Windows Live services such as Skydrive, Photos along with better ways to manage your email. The cleaner interface is also another great part of the new Windows Live Hotmail, you can collapse group folders and really have a more desktop mail like experience with the enhanced service.
Still, I believe Windows Live Hotmail could do more, and could even go to higher level in design. For the past couple months now, I have been creating some illustrations of what my Hotmail should look and work like. I will admit, Hotmail needs more power and agility and to work better in a Web paradigm. I have basically been using Windows Live Hotmail primarily for email, but will occasionally backup and utilize some of the cool new features in the latest version of Microsoft Outlook version 2010 such as Conversation View using the Outlook Hotmail Connector. But I just cannot resist and I am unwilling to give up Windows Live Hotmail.
I would like you to check out these concepts to really get a feel of what I want Hotmail to be. Overall, I want an even more streamlined, revamped Windows Live web services experience that’s cohesive, from Hotmail to Windows Live Spaces. The vapor theme which was introduced with the first Wave has evolved over the years, but I personally believe its more of a hindrance than a necessity to providing the ultimate experience that in some ways could be possible to make Windows Live an excellent complement to desktop solutions. Basically, I think vapor theme needs to be retired and a serious straight forward UI needs to be implemented, in particular for the new Docs capabilities that will be coming with the release of Office 2010. Lets start off first with Windows Live Hotmail since this post is really about my experience and what I want to see in a future update.
Now, as you can see in the above illustration, I have created a more streamlined interface mimicking a desktop application look and feel. For the past couple years now, I had built up my reservations about the Wave branding. Although it looks nice, I just don’t believe it adds much value to the user experience, especially for a web service such as Windows Live Hotmail. Instead, I decided to replace it with a menu strip up at the top which displays the name of the active Service (in this case Windows Live Hotmail) menu which host access to a users widely used services. Along the top, you will see traditional links such as Home, Profile, People, Mail, Photos etc. An addition I decided make in this illustration is to add a separate search box just for Bing web search.
Going into the next level of the UI, I believe you see a more streamlined set of options that pertain to Windows Live Hotmail, you have a Sort menu, common task menus such as New, Delete, Junk, Mark as, Move to and Print. At the extreme right hand side of the the toolbar, you see a specific search box just, "just" for email, nothing to be confused with Bing, just for searching your email.
In the concept, you will see that I have made some changes to the Mail Pane, your account name is displayed, along with greater view of all your Mail folders and quick access to options and settings. You can also get quick access to the Related places such as MSN Today, Contact List and Calendar. The Mini ad which advertises tips and information about other Windows Live properties, I decided should be be part of one single banner, and you can see this on the right hand side along with the traditional vertical ad banner. Again, its about effective, practical convenience and compromises.
Cleaner Cohesive Design for Windows Live
Quicker access to Options and Settings
We now go down to the status bar at the bottom of the Windows Live Hotmail web page. Just like the Services menu at the top, the status bar at the bottom should travel with the user across Windows Live properties. So for instance, if I decide to leave the Windows Live Hotmail Page and go to Windows Live Photos or Skydrive, I should still have access to both the Services menu and status bar.
The above illustrations give an idea of how I feel Windows Live needs to be more dynamic, more predictable and efficient to use. Now of course, Windows Live Hotmail wave 4 will be adding some of these improvements. But my main concern is the implementation, the cohesiveness of the presentation and experience the Windows Live Hotmail team is delivering. There needs to be proper use of the web interface to better engage users and give them a logical approach to enjoying and using Windows Live.
The integrated messaging experience in Windows Live travels with you across all Windows Live services.
Integrated messaging experience is something I am particularly passionate about and believe Windows Live could and should execute well. The above illustration demonstrates this well. The status bar has a lot of real estate and it should be a great place to host a conversation window that is well integrated, out of the way and travels with the user across Windows Live services, but most important of all, it can be easily accessed. I created this mockup back in April, and since then, it has been revealed that Hotmail wave 4 will introduce similar improvements, with tabbed conversations, but the presentation and organization is still something I would like to see better improvements to.
Better ways of Searching your email
Let me be honest, I never liked using search in Windows Live Hotmail, it is too basic and narrow in its capabilities. For instance, I have mail backed up in a particular folder and I just want to search for a message I know exist in that folder. My only option is to search Search email and hopes it gives me an accurate result. Most of often, the result will throw back hundreds of messages which I still have to weed through to find that particular message. I think the best way to solve this is to have filtered search per folder. So, if I want to search my ‘Contest’ folder, I just check that folder and type in my query and gives back results from just that folder and nothing else.
Here is one thing I find a bit annoying about Hotmail. I usually leave my Hotmail window open, because of security reasons (which are good reasons), I will be asked after a few hours to sign in again. Now, the experience is not seamless. Instead of clicking sign in again on the banner, why not have a dialog popup that freezes the screen, prompting the user to sign in again. Click the Sign in button, and it signs you in. You can even change the setting to require your password for stronger security. But instead of launching a new window and asking the user if they would like this window closed, I think this would be a better implementation.
So, these are just a small capture of what I am thinking about and want to see improved in Windows Live Hotmail. I love using the service, I love the convenience of having access to my mail, anytime, anywhere on any device. I just think the presentation and how it is used could be improved. Not just for Hotmail, but also for the family of Windows Live Services. Of course, these are just my views, I would love hear what you think and what you would like to see improved in Windows Live Hotmail and Windows Live properties. My next article will be discussing Windows Live Spaces, stay tuned.