AOL Redesigns Mail, Talks About Email’s Evolution

    July 29, 2012
    Chris Crum

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
Chris 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.