Email as interface

Session Title

Email as interface


Cennydd Bowles, Clearleft

Session Type: Presentation

Email has hit the rocks. The digerati resent it, the younger generations ignore it. Once an exciting new frontier of communication, email is now a chore, hampered by spam, vendor neglect and marketing exploitation.

Barely a day passes without the prophecy of its replacement. Typically these young pretenders are centralised, proprietary systems such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Wave. They all promise a real-time, filterable, sortable world where communication is painlessly mediated. But there’s life in the old dog yet. It’s precisely email’s perceived weaknesses — egalitarianism, openness and crudity — that make it an intriguing system for hackers and designers of new technology.

Email’s interface and design paradigm, static for many years, is already being reinvented. But the most interesting changes lie in how email is becoming not just a communication medium, but a user interface in its own right. Web services such as Posterous and Tripit are demonstrating that email can be both an input mechanism of surprising power and simplicity, and a flexible output system. As a way for services to interact asynchronously with users, much of email’s potential lies untapped.

This session will answer questions such as:
* What advantages does email-as-interface have over a traditional GUI?
* In this new context, what possibilities do the function and form of email offer us?
* What issues must interaction designers consider to get the best out of this approach?


Cennydd Bowles leapt into the mysterious world of user experience seven years ago and hasn’t shut up about it since. He’s now working for Clearleft in Brighton UK, while moonlighting as a UX mentor, community evangelist, speaker and writer.

Cennydd’s writing and design work has been published in influential magazines and blogs (including A List Apart, Johnny Holland and .net magazine), and he is co-founder of the UX London conference. His previous clients include Gumtree, JustGiving, UpMyStreet and WWF.


  1. Posted September 22, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Any presentation that reads “email”, I run to the opposite direction.

  2. Posted September 28, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    And that’s precisely why we should be exploring it :)