FollowUpThen can do so much. Yet people love it because of its simplicity. Merging these two concepts into a user interface has been no small design challenge. After the screenshots and animations below, I share some details about the how we walked this line, our philosophy and general approach.
But first, the highlights!
Simpler Task Listing
We grouped upcoming followups by time (a popular request) and hid a number of secondary actions. The focus of the page is now clearly on the flow of future information – the main thing we are trying to do.
Search and filter utilities that were on the sidebar have been deprioritized. They are still there, just tactfully waiting on the sidelines, ready when you need them.
Flattened Menu Structure
The main menu and other menus now follow a simple, popular convention: A few primary actions, followed by an ellipsis that offers additional items. There is no more settings submenu. Fewer clicks. Less digging.
Simpler Followup Details
Followup details are also simpler, helping you focus on your upcoming followups, not the user interface.
There are fewer primary controls on the page, but the interactions still feel like they are right at your fingertips. Additional actions (adding attachments, controlling recipients, etc are available under the expanded menu). Here is how it looks to reschedule a task:
Our Design Approach
The appeal of FUT is its single-purpose utility: We put information in your inbox at the perfect moment.
It's nice to look at a piece of software and know exactly how it should be used, especially when the use-case is simple, like scheduling a message to be sent at the right time.
But as FollowUpThen finds its way into someone's daily workflow, things begin to change. There are not only edge cases, odd followup scenarios and strange emails. There are opportunities.
For example, some of our users are sales professionals. For them, connecting FUT with their CRM transforms FUT into a personal assistant that brokers data to and from their CRM, saving them pain and the toil of data entry.
Useful! But not everyone needs a CRM.
There are many, similar scenarios – accountants, executives, project managers, coaches all have unique workflows and ways of leveraging FUT that were well beyond what we could have imagined. We (and our users) are only beginning to explore the possibilities.
The challenge is avoiding the dreaded one-size-fits-all product. The perfect feature for one person is, after all, just clutter for someone else. Too many products go this way – a once simple and elegant solution, "improved" to a point of unusable complexity.
What is the solution?
Many companies facing this scenario commit the entire product to a market niche. For example, making FollowUpThen a dedicated tool for Real Estate professionals.
We, for better or worse, took a different approach. It looks something like this:
- Simplicity. Find the lowest common denominator – the single, essential quality that is valuable to every FollowUpThen user. (Time travel, in our case)
- Extensibility. This applies both to the product experience and to the technical foundations. Users can extend the product. We (and soon others) can offer add-on functionality in self-contained packages called "Skills"
- Discoverability. Encourage users to explore and enable new features only when they prove valuable.
These foundations have led us down a path that, so far, looks promising. With this new design update, the product is starting to feel simple. The pieces are coming together. And the extensibility of our technology is exciting. (I can't wait to show our developer community our API / extension system).
At its core, FollowUpThen is just a means to get an email in your future inbox. Many of our users have been happily using FUT for over 10 years needing only this and nothing more.
Others came for the simplicity but stayed because they found something much more valuable: a personal assistant, one they could fine-tune to perfectly streamline their most important business workflows.
Either way, we start at the same place: simplicity.
And if we can make someone's life a little less complex and easier to manage through a simple piece of software, everyone wins.
As always, comments and feedback are welcome. Feel free let us know what you think here or @followupthen on Twitter.