Slack, we need to talk…about how needy you are

We must be mindful of Slack’s users time and attention

🔎 Context

I’ve been using Slack for work and school for almost 3 years. It’s amazing for fast communication, and to be updated on what the agenda holds for the day/week/month.

🕵️‍ User needs

There can be issues for people with low attention span, especially for folks who are trying to finish specific tasks by the end of the day. As well as folks who may feel the need to get rid of notifications ASAP by responding. Work tools should provide paths for people to work rapidly and effectively.

In retrospect, chats can tend to have a more cluttered feel because of the constant messaging. This can mean files getting lost, losing information in links, feeling the social expectation to respond immediately, and not getting work done efficiently. I will be designing feature proposals to minimize some of these issues.

🧐 Problem space

Slack has solutions for things like notification preferences, threads/replies, and sorting, viewing, and uploading media files. But I believe that there is room for improvement to work towards a more efficient and seamless experience.

When designing for protecting users time and attention, how might we foster focus on entry points to give Slack a better user experience?

With intentions of designing to protect users time and attention, I asked I had to think about what I could do to break down barriers to help users achieve what they want to.

✍🏻 Process

Taking my learnings from Radical Research Summit 2018, I focused my thinking on how to make incremental changes in delightful moments to reduce stress in users from social expectations of the platform.

Ethics & power: understanding the role of shame in UX research

Vivianne Castillo spoke at the Radical Research Summit 2018, and mentioned that “UX Research, as a field, suffers from a deep sense of pride in understanding and practicing empathy.” Empathy doesn’t just happen when you’re with the user, but it also happens when you leave the room. Where does it take place? How does it take place?

Vivianne Castillo at the Radical Research Summit 2018 @ Vancouver, Canada.

💡 Solutions

Away auto-reply messages

Just like other conversational social media apps, there can be a tendency to feel social expectations of keeping conversations going — even after signing off for the day or needing to be completely focused to meet deadlines.

When notifications are muted, there may be a miscommunication or the person on the other side may think they said something wrong. There is no feedback after a response, despite setting your status to ‘Do Not Disturb’. With an auto-reply, users can better expect when to get a reply, and can figure out a way around other tasks.

Quick links

In all my previous jobs, we completely avoided trying to add multiple files into Slack, and created links to Google Drives, Dropbox folders, and Asana. With integrated tools, often these links can become lost through messaging, or difficult to sift through the ‘Shared Files’ section.

With a quick links section, this can help others quickly find links that contain a lot of files for work.

Biggest Takeaways

  1. Do quick, lo-fi, rapid prototypes first. By starting with paper, this helped me not stress too much about components but understanding what ideas were potentially viable, and which didn’t make sense with the problem space I was aiming at.
  2. Test, test, test, no matter what stage. Meghan Hellstern gave an amazing talk on “Human-centered design: Beyond the 101”. She pointed out “testing gives you data to use in making, proposing and defending design decisions” and actually inspired a big part of this side project!
  3. Working agile requires lots of feedback. I couldn’t have moved forward with this project without my peers. Their feedback supplemented the project more and gave me so much more to think about.


I was inspired after reading Ed Chao’s article on Fostering Focus For Small Screens. The team and Medium articles from Dropbox continue to inspire me to think about designing for value.

As I’m in the process of learning how to better my prototyping/making skills, this seemed like an amazing opportunity for me to take on a side project of testing what this would look like, and feel like under these limitations.

Edit: It was so awesome to see how they were working on these issues at the same time that I was prototyping these interactions! Here’s a link to their improvements to tackle a few of the same issues on notifications.

I’m Sandra, I’m a designer with a passion for creating meaningful social experiences between people and products. Find me on LinkedIn or Twitter!