Before You Design Slack Experiences, Do This
Three fundamental mindset shifts our design team made that set us up for success
As a designer, you might be getting asked to design Slack experiences for your company. That could be anything from a way to organize communications (like Asana’s app), simplify teamwork (like Figma’s app) or integrate with other custom file-sharing apps (like TD Ameritrade’s BetterBot app). It all makes business sense given Slack is where work happens now.
On average, paid users spend an hour and a half on Slack each work day. This is due to the way it streamlines collaborations and eliminates context switching. That’s code for saves time. Now, many organizations have already jumped at the opportunity to integrate it. Just look at the Slack App Directory. There are over 2,500 apps in it, which shows how makers are converging and creating there. Almost a million developers are on the Slack platform and designers like you and I are having conversations like this one about optimal ways to integrate it.
I myself have been evaluating and iterating on Slack experiences since Salesforce announced its intention to acquire the platform last December.
In that time, I’ve realized that before designers jump into this work, there are 3 fundamental mindset shifts we can make to help create a Slack experience that’s more efficient, inclusive and intuitive:
- Individual users ➡️ Multiplayer teams
Why? Engage all roles for enriched collaborations.
- Deep work ➡️ Quick work
Why? Reduce user effort with simplified UX.
- Pull interactions ➡️ Push interactions
Why? Make work more efficient.
Now, these mindsets aren’t entirely new. Other teams have been working from this space, too. For example: Mobile, notifications, or teams already building conversational interfaces. Designers can look to these leaders to help bring the rest of the organization along. We did just that. All our learnings were the result of researching and iterating designs with users and having many conversations with folks who know the product best: the Slack team.
Let’s start with how we embraced the first mindset shift and why it mattered.
Mindset Shift 1: Individual users ➡️ Multiplayer teams
If your design training was like mine, you learned to focus on the individual user. Who is that person? What are their motivations? Knowing that groups convene to work in Slack’s #channels, we can actually shift that mindset to a broader user: the multiplayer team.
This can be for an internal team or an external team of partners/clients/vendors through Slack Connect, which enables users to connect with up to 20 different organizations within the same #channel. Either way, this is where and how to bring teams together to co-create in real time.
When you bring people together, you encourage knowledge sharing across an organization or project team. So when designers shift their mindset to think of teams, we can engage broader audiences to consider a topic or to get work done. Note: This often spurs more passionate subtopics. For example: We have #channels for design thinking projects and workshops. And we also have #designthinking-north for everyone who’s after related information and inspiration. Members of this channel work across departments throughout northern Europe and share everything from design-thinking course recommendations and focus-group invites to articles and templates. This is where ideas get sparked and connections get strengthened. In many ways, the future of design is about nurturing this dynamic. Once you think through a multiplayer lens, everything you do is Relationship Design.
Do you have a Multiplayer Teams mindset? Ask yourself:
- What can your app do to spur conversation in #channels or get more done?
- What can your app do to make an existing conversation better?
- How do your designs help the various roles that collaborate in #channels?
- How can your app help drive action or insight for the team?
Now that you have a clear view on who you’re designing for, let’s talk about how your designs will fit into their workflows.
Mindset Shift 2: Deep work ➡️ Quick work
We all know that some work requires uninterrupted time (deep work) and other work centers on small-order tasks (quick work). Slack experiences benefit from a quick-work mindset.
Here’s why: Most quick work (e.g.notifications, iterative reviews, approvals) can be brought to you in a Slack #channel or app. Some examples of apps that do this well are Workday (submitting receipts and approving expenses), Figma (sharing design-process contributions) and Grow (providing feedback to your colleagues). When you consolidate quick work into one place, it saves everyone time. Spending less of our days signing into meetings and authenticating into various systems is something we’re all after. That’s what will allow us to spend more time on meaningful work like building marketing journeys or managing a CMS
Do you have a Quick Work mindset? Ask yourself:
- Within your app of business functions, what are the quick-work use cases or jobs to be done? How could you bring that into Slack?
- If you’re designing deep work in Slack, how can you scale it into quick work? Or is it better served by a deep work environment like Salesforce?
Once we understood this, we were able to get really tactical. The next shift gets at the mechanism for engaging with multiplayer teams doing quick work.
Mindset Shift 3: Pull interactions ➡️ Push interactions
You’ve likely designed pull interactions, where users navigate to a product to take action. Dashboards are a great example of this because it’s a destination where users can go to find the features they need. The mindset shift that helped me when designing for Slack experiences was to focus instead on push interactions, where users can take action right where they are. For example, we could push a notification to a manager that an employee’s travel request has been submitted, and they can quickly approve it right there within Slack.
The goal is to only push the most important information to users to take an action.
Designers are often the ones deciding when and how teams are going to get new information. If we’re not thoughtfully prioritizing what’s important, then the signal can get lost in notification noise. We’re also the ones simplifying the experience for optimal user experience. That’s why simply moving pull interactions into a push-interaction platform would create too much complexity. It’s also why you don’t see dashboards in Slack.
That’s why designers do our diligence. We can create ecosystem diagrams to understand where the connections are between job performers. It’s an opportunity to think relationally. Consider how to bring in new information that could start a conversation or enrich an ongoing one?
Do you have a Push Interaction mindset? Ask yourself:
- Are you using research to identify time-relevant content and updates to focus your design energy?
- When would a push notification help our users? What information do they need to quickly make a decision? What actions could they take from that notification?
So before you design Slack experiences, consider the questions above. Your team could even do the same.
Shifting into these 3 fundamental mindsets will help you create an experience that’s more efficient, inclusive and intuitive. It’s certainly helped our team. For me, design challenges are more easily understood with different mindsets or mental models. This applies even if you aren’t building for a conversational interface like Slack.
Right now, we’re seeing seismic shifts in how we work. It’s clear that remote work is increasingly common and appealing. According to a Glassdoor report, 4x more people are searching for remote jobs than before the pandemic. More than ever, work will hinge on getting more value from business tools and apps that synchronize teams.
So, if you aren’t designing for Slack now, the chances are increasing that you will in the future.
Knowing this, it’s a good time for designers to prepare for what’s ahead by embracing the mindsets of designing for push interactions that let multiplayer teams do quick work.