AOL Redesigns Mail, Talks About Email’s Evolution

By: Chris Crum - July 29, 2012

AOL, the company who made the phrase “You’ve got mail” iconic, has released a huge redesign to its AOL Mail experience. This is the first major redesign to the product in about five years.

Do you use AOL Mail? What do you think of the redesign? DId you use it at one time? What made you stop? What do you think of the company’s approach to email now? Share your thoughts in the comments.

We had a conversation with David Temkin, Senior VP of Mail and Mobile at AOL, talking about the new design, and how email has changed since the early days of AOL.

The new design focuses on a cleaner inbox with some new mail features, as well as Facebook chat, AIM and SMS integration. There are new “mini-apps” for managing contacts, AIM, to-do lists, events, etc. There are also new backgrounds and themes for customizing the look and feel of the inbox.

AOL Messaging

Ad placement and size has also shifted to provide a cleaner inbox with more space for mail. Per user monetization is significantly improved, the company says.

Ad placement

AOL says the redesign comes at the tail end of a multi-year effort to improve the AOL Mail infrastructure, including a number of improvements to the backend technology for improved 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,” Temkin tells WebProNews. “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.”

“Also, the amount of email users are receiving today has grown tremendously from the past, leading to what we refer to as ‘inbox fatigue’,” he adds. “The amount of commercial email (e.g. bills, mail from retailers, daily deals) has grown – this is part of that drive to organize life from the inbox.”

So, how do the new changes to AOL Mail most reflect these changes in how people use email?

“Last year we did an in-depth ethnography study where we went into actual users’ homes; our goal was to learn more about how folks utilize communications in the time of SMS and social networks,” Temkin says. “What we learned is that the design, experience, and formality of mail applications has caused a lot of this inbox fatigue, stress around email, and shift to SMS and social networks for personal communications.”

“Lightening up the application – making the UI cleaner and creating a more visually appealing experience – is just the first step in a series of changes we are doing to combat this,” he says. “Besides the visual updates, we’ve also put more emphasis on calendaring and to-do’s in order to help folks with the planning and organization of their daily routines. All that said, because people literally will leave a tab open in their browser all day to mail, it’s also important to have users feel like the email is really a part of who they are. We’ve kept themes, which reflect some of the beautiful artwork from the AOL logo as well as seasonal events. This allows people to continue to personalize their experience.”

To go along with the redesign, AOL says it has expanded its available namespace, freeing up high quality, in-demand email addresses for new users, so that new users signing up “no longer have to use an address that includes a random string of numbers at the end of their names.”

AOL sees its brand as a major point of competition with the likes of web mail providers like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.

“Since we’ve recently expanded the name space, we have lots of great usernames from an iconic brand. It’s a fresh new experience for folks looking for a change for the better.”

“We need to continue pushing the design envelope and continue evolving the user experience to fit the ever changing needs and expectations of a mail provider,” he says. “At this point we definitely feel we are heading in the right direction.”

When asked about social media’s impact on email, Temkin says, “There’s no doubt that social networking has disrupted communications but it has not killed email – it’s changed how people use email. It’s shifted from being a personal communications tool to more of a life management tool. Email is actually projected to grow by 2% between now and 2016 (via eMarketer).”

AOL Mail currently has about 24 million users. As of today, the new UI is officially available to the entire user base.

How important is email to your daily routine? What do you think of the redesign? AOL’s efforts? Let us know in the comments.

Chris Crum

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • Maureen Goede

    I do not like the NEW AOL E-mail format, wich I could have my old site back as it served my purposes, I do not really care about the colorful and etc that was put in. For me, this was not progress. M. L. Goede

  • Peter Gibbs

    This new format is horrid, even more flashing adverts in your face. A very firm thumbs down…..could well move to another provider who has a little more “taste”. Precious little of it left here….NO

  • R

    The redesign is terrible. A lot of good functionality and ease of use has been lost here. It is more difficult to navigate and more difficult to search mail and access older mail. The more people who point out why the redesign is terrible the more likely it is that AOL will listen and perhaps respond. They have taken something that was very usable and turned it into a terrible experience. I see no reason to stay with them.

    • Richard

      Dear R,

      If you use AOL Mail we would love to hear any suggestions you have for improving it. Drop us a note by clicking on the feedback ribbon in the upper corner of your screen. We read all of the feedback we get and work hard to listen to what our users are asking for. Seriously do it. You might even be surprised if we call you up. :)

  • Ann

    I don’t see the advantages. It looks cartoonish and cheap.

  • Mac

    The moving ads on the right side of the screen are truly irritating!

  • Dave

    Have always hated aol, and all the others who do not EASILY allow reporting of their own users for spam. Yahoo is just as bad.

    They seem to think that only aol / yahoo customers should have the right / ability to report aol / yahoo users spamming by using their internal reporting procedures.

    Sorry guys, you have some of the most prolific spammers on the internet – why? because no-one can easily report them and you give them shelter.

  • http://aolmailsend florence nedell

    I cannot fill out the subject when I send mail. Tell me what is wrong?

    • http://aolmailsend florence nedell

      how do I fill out subject???

  • Pete Clark

    Current advice to anyone entering info into our systems with an email address, is to change the email address, because of the number of times that email has been blocked for no reason.

    And the amount of spam from AOL accounts is another reason. We have complex filtering systems, but many people don’t, and could well just block all email from an AOL account.

    I don’t see any to change to that side of things, so won’t be changing my advice.

  • Randall

    It’s horrible. I have high speed DSL, but I use AOL as my primary e-mail account. Those animated ads (I assume it’s that) make the e-mails load slowly when you read them, and when sending e-mails, and especially when deleting the one you are reading. If I check boxes and delete a number of e-mails at once, it’s fast, though. The other format was way faster. Or maybe it’s the new apps in the background causing both the e-mails and ads to run slow. Whatever it is, it’s very frustrating.

  • dorie

    I hate this new design. I want the old one to come back. I do not like seeing tons of dark heavy logos all over the page. It is not easy to use and there are lots of other free mail sites. AOL change this or you will lose lots of customers.

  • dorie

    The ads are a nitemare. I have to enlarge my screen to 150 percent to block out the ads.

  • dorie

    This new format looks like it is from the 1990’s . Or if internet was available in the 70 or 60’s maybe from that era. It is so dark and takes up so much room. We don’t need large blocks to say “reply” or “keep as new”. You can streamline this format as I will be dropping you very soon.

  • kss9

    Inever used AOL when email came to be because it was too savy for me. I heard a lot of complaints from coworkers back in the late 90s who purchased new PCs and laptops that it was difficult to cancel a free trial account. So for that reason, I stayed away from it. I like what I use now and have no plans to change. But I’m glad to hear AOL is still around. Wonder why they are making changes…

  • Jhon T

    I have checked the new aol email design. I feel it’s too overcrowded. It no longer has at least the previous simplicity feel too it. In reality you just want to get in and get out not live in the wall garden. Too much over complication that would slow up those that still have aol email from the old days. Once again simplicity rules and the new design makes you spend more time on there that you prefer.

  • bob

    can’t see the point in whole thing looks crappy and cheap. woo connect to facebook through your email page big deal the fonts are really bad
    lots of user dislike it


    I hate the new aol email look. I like the old style of aol mail that was just taken away from us.
    I know it works the same but I preferred the layout of the old page better.

  • Bill Willems

    Change just for the sake of change? why? I downloaded something earlier and I got a “Have dinner with Nobama.I’m tired of that non citizen non christian socialist dictator having ads on my home page. Keep that Communist sympathizer off my page. . There are other companies.

  • aktell

    Well, I do look for a new E-mail getting away from that overpowering Big-G rubbish, but mite have to wait now because it wont be AOL for sure!

  • Yuriy

    I saw same alternative energy forum

  • positive messages

    I no longer use AOL email, I like hotmail and gmail also yahoo, why use AOL when there is cool email like yahoo with no annyoing ads

  • Carol

    Please bring back the old aol. I absolutely hate the new version. I can’t even read my email without having to scroll back and forth. It looks like first grade, all of the fonts are so large…not to mention the annoying ad sidebar to the right. I never thought I would leave aol but I am considering with this new change. It has ruined my email experience.

  • Eric

    I thought AOL went out of business in the 90’s?
    Actually I haven’t given them much thought aside from AIM (AOL instant messenger) since they screwed everything up in the 90’s when they went “unlimited” and you could never sign on anymore. After that I guess we just grew apart. I went on to Prodigy, then to cable, and never looked back.

  • Grunj

    You gotta be kidding me. AOL: Aged Old Long-in-the-tooth. Checked out their recent changes…you gotta be kidding me…in this day and age and that’s the best they could come up with. Has anyone explained to them that change is not for the sake of change, but for the sake of improvement. To get better. To advance techiques and design. To introduce new and improved ways to email.
    This is like watching Kodak all over again.

  • GiGi Eats Celebrities

    Definitely gives me a headache just looking at it. I wish I could forward all of my AOL emails to my other accounts that I like and use far more!

  • Matt

    I still use Aol email, as well as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Yandex mail. I really like the new Aol email, it’s a massive improvement over the old.

  • Cliff Newman

    I would leave the Internet before I used AOL.

  • Alison Kaufman

    I truly hate the new format. I cannot access my buddy list or AIM, I do not get a list of people’s screen names as I used to when I try to write a letter to someone. The print is huge and dark and horrid and takes up too much room. I don’t like using the computer anymore and I used to do it many times a day. Bring back the old page. This is just awful. I can’t even change the text or the color of the text, there is no icon for bold or italics. What a mess!

  • Alison Kaufman


  • Don McGinty

    I do not like the new format. It is frustrating, not user friendly, and seems to be a downgrade, rather than an upgrade. It is not allowing me to use the font size I want to use—to make the size I want to use most of the time (and change only when I want it to be different). I am truly not happy with the “new look”, and would like very much to have the old AOL back. I have gone to my Mac Store 2 times in the past three days, and they can’t seem to help me with your new version. Please make it easier to use than it is now—I do not like it at all!

  • Philip Ruttley

    I don’t find it an improvement. Above all, the constant moving advertisements on the right hand side of the screen are maddening and distracting. There should be a way of minimising or blocking them out. In fact, these adverts are so irritating that I am switching to gmail. Why put advertising revenue above customer satisfaction and lose customers in the process?

  • Deb

    Yes, I used AOL many years ago, along with Compuserve(?)and Juno. I stopped using AOL because of the constant updates, adverts and general slow responses.
    Will stick to gmail…………

  • Withheld

    I have multiple AOL accounts, so I requested an invite for each. Not surprisingly, I only received two invites on my three AOL accounts. In fact, receiving emails I’ve subscribed to has been an ongoing problem with all of my AOL accounts. If AOL cannot deliver subscribed email to its own customers, there is definitely an internal problem and technical support is lacking – AOL’s response “oh I don’t know… 940″. Now, read an objective review on this new AOL service at:
    Just as the writer commented in this review that when she created a Stack, many emails remained in her inbox – she is lucky to even find those emails in her inbox. The writer is right on the money when she concludes that AOL needs “to improve the algorithm or natural language processing technology it’s using” as AOL already has an existing email delivery problem relating to its SPAM filters so why would anyone bother to trying this new service. Again, to quote the writer as stated above – “Yikes”!

  • Audrey Trotter

    I don’t like it I can’t get my mail and when I do get it I can’t read it because it deletes it and I have to click on new mail for it to come back on the screen.

  • Audrey Trotter

    the format, that you have in the picture is what I won’t

  • Samuel McElroy

    I had the new format until my computer was repaired. How do I get the new format back?