Redesigning WhatsApp

I learned to blame the app. Instead of taking an app to be written in stone, I started prioritizing the user. That changed everything.

Komal Maheshwari
Apr 12, 2019 · 11 min read

Background Story

Summer, 2018

‘Try redesigning an app of your choice. Preferrably, an app that you use regularly. Just list down things which you believe might be problematic and try to find an alternate solution. It’ll give you a better introduction to the field than I ever can.’

I chose WhatsApp.

Getting Started

I got started by thoroughly familiarising myself with the app, inside and out. I also read up about it on the web in a bid to understand what makes it tick (This blog by Charles Deets was very helpful: One Year Designing at WhatsApp)

  • WhatsApp avoids using unnecessary features and that is what makes it so special. Almost anyone can use it. No special skills or education levels needed
  • Whenever Whatsapp introduces a new feature, the app doesn’t prompt the user about it. The WhatsApp team designs features which are obviously useful and are extremely intuitive to use. This enables the users to discover them on their own. As Deets writes very crisply in his blog: “if the feature needs explanation, it's not ready”. This basic intuitiveness, I realised, was the core principle that WhatsApp, as a product, stood on.

Gathering perspectives.

Now, I tried listing down things that bothered me… I realised that even though I felt slightly uncomfortable in certain places, it was difficult to verbalize exactly why. That’s when I decided to ask other users.

I learned to blame the app. I learned how to actively observe where i was uncomfortable and try to figure out how minor tweaks could make me more comfortable. Instead of taking an app to be written in stone, I started prioritising myself (the user). That changed everything.

The problems and their solutions

Now that I’d learned how to identify user problems, I set about doing the same on my own and here’s what I squared in on

1. Calls:

Problem: Making calls was way too simple. The buttons were way too accessible. This problem was identified on the basis of the following assumptions,

The call buttons
Touch zones on an average sized phone screen according to ease of access
Illustration courtesy: Brown Paperbag
  • Calling is a deliberate action and the user has no other alternative to making a call. This fact makes visibility a non-issue. Therefore, the increase in the number of steps to make a call will not affect the probability of the feature being used.
  • There is a step in between pressing that button and the actual call. This step, where the user chooses what kind of call he wants to make, also acts as an indirect confirmation that the user actually intends to make the call.
  • Chances of accidentally making a call will get significantly reduced.

2. Location of the search button:

Problem: The search button is not very accessible. It appears in the drop-down menu which made it difficult to locate the first few times and even after the user has become used to its location, scrolling always makes for the more intuitive option.

  • The search button is a low-risk button. This means that pressing it accidentally doesn’t have any serious consequences as opposed to the call button where another person gets involved in case you end up pressing the button accidentally.

3. Search options:

Problem:

  • The relevant results are not displayed together instead they are highlighted and one has to scroll endlessly in order to be able to locate the relevant message.
  • The fact that older messages take a little time to load as you scroll up makes the whole ordeal all the more exasperating.
  • Search by date (group and individual chats)
Switching between the various modes of search
  • The arrow next to message directs the user to the original conversation(context)
Search by member-flow
  • All messages by the particular member come together(sorted according to date)
  • The arrow next to message directs the user to the original conversation(context)
Search by member-flow

4. The absence of a diplomatic alternative to ‘block’:

Problem: Whatsapp has no feature which allows you to completely avoid reading a person’s texts without blocking them. Blocking implies that the messages won’t reach you at all which is great but sometimes all you want is to not see a certain chat in your inbox every morning but to still receive the texts and access them whenever you want to.

The ignore feature
Accessing ignored chats
  • The user doesn’t need to explicitly block people. Blocking is generally seen as an extreme measure and people don’t usually wish to resort to it unless their relationship with someone is explicitly sour. This is a more diplomatic way out.
  • The user gains greater control over his/her inbox.

5. Changes in the drop menu:

The drop-down menu: before(left) and after(right)
  • In the proposed solution, you know all the options that you have for a particular chat as soon as you open the drop-down menu. You instantly know that you can mute, ignore, block or even report a chat.
  • The chances of actually opening and checking the more option are relatively lower. Therefore, the possibility that a chunk of users might never know that some functions(like a report) exist, is significantly reduced in the proposed solution.
  • Also, wallpaper should be a part of the settings of the app as a whole and not be an option in every chat window. It is not important enough to be so easily accessible in every window. It's more of secondary action, a relatively vain indulgence, as compared to other functions.

Learnings:

  • The younger generation is capable of differentiating between a well-designed app and a badly designed app, whereas the older generation is not. The older generation is also aware of their unease around technology. Whenever something goes wrong, the older generation tends to blame themselves and not technology and ends up losing confidence, even more, when it comes to using technology. It is incredibly crucial that apps be as well designed as possible for the older generation to feel comfortable with tech and for them to feel encouraged to use it.
  • Empathy is a skill, not an emotion. To learn it and to be able to do it well, you need to practice it every day. And it is also perhaps one of the most invaluable skills you’ll ever learn.
  • Things which seem the simplest were the toughest to build. It’s easy to complicate things. To simplify takes tons of effort and patience.
  • I’ve started appreciating the fact that the smallest of things taken someone’s thought and effort to come into existence.

Design Studio, IIT Roorkee

We are budding researchers, designers, engineers and…

Design Studio, IIT Roorkee

We are budding researchers, designers, engineers and architects at IITR working together to combine art, science and technology to create better experiences

Komal Maheshwari

Written by

4th-year student at IIT Roorkee. Product enthusiast on the side. This blog seeks to document my projects, insights, and epiphanies.

Design Studio, IIT Roorkee

We are budding researchers, designers, engineers and architects at IITR working together to combine art, science and technology to create better experiences