An app that has always perplexed me is the Google Mail app on Android. It can be the hub of your email services if you wish. However simple the app may present itself as there are constraints to its design. It opens similarly to most other email apps you can find on Android or Apple devices. When opened it reveals an updated inbox with highlighted text for your unread messages. The affordances are a coherent view for your unread vs read emails, this must remain consistent with other messaging services such as iMessage and Whatsapp as the human brain has now come to identify a certain user experience when it comes to email/messaging applications.
However, this app, much like other services, wishes to be the place where all your email accounts, business or personal, can be stored. What is important for Gmail is how to compile these accounts onto the screen. It uses the standard Google interface of a blue circle in the right-hand corner which contains your initials. Once tapped on, it reveals all your accounts with highlights for accounts with new emails. The “hamburger” button on the left reveals the different inboxes and folders of an account, with the option of viewing all inboxes. However, here, there is no indication of unread messages here.
This separation of inboxes on a screen that is already busy with text does on the surface make sense. We are made to interact largely with one account at a time. This remains the same online with Gmail. Let’s say you have three accounts, one for school, one for personal and one for business or other use. You can have three tabs open on your computer with further tabs within the interface of Gmail identifying different folders. This presents a potential total of 12 different folders needed to be clicked on. This is a constraint of the idea that our accounts must be separated and organized by Gmail. They have tried to find a fluid and consistent interface. However, on a phone screen, it is virtually impossible to gauge a total, comprehensive view of what you need to pay attention to. Perhaps this is a cunning way to get you to spend more time on the app.
What is clear from this examination, is that email has become a human necessity for those in the professional or educational world. The layout has remained the same for years. Organizing it in an efficient way which is also cohesive with our basic human understanding of how it “should” look, is the complex task here. I found it particularly intriguing to learn about ‘external representations’ from Zhang and Patel. It seems emailing services have adhered to the ‘long term memory aids’ which have become the standard. This creates a set behavior, one must follow on the app, perhaps tot the detriment of the creative growth of a platform.
Donald A. Norman, “Affordance, Conventions, and Design.” Interactions 6, no. 3 (May 1999): 38-43.
Jiajie Zhang and Vimla L. Patel. “Distributed Cognition, Representation, and Affordance.” Pragmatics & Cognition 14, no. 2 (July 2006): 333-341.
Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Affordances and Interfaces.”