Design Portfolio & Resume

Mobile Instant Messaging


Customer Goal

See whether any of my friends are available and engage in a text conversation with them on my phone.

Role

Lead Designer

Key Deliverables

  • Wireframes
  • UX specification
  • Finding and logging implementation bugs

Process

Since I already had a great deal of experience designing IM apps, and with a tight schedule, I jumped into wireframes rather than starting at sketching or the like. I’d also been working on a related project that included a “buddy map” feature and was able to re-use portions of the design. I worked closely with the Product Manager on the requirements.

I spent a considerable amount of time designing – in wireframes – the ability to switch IM conversations directly without having to press Back to get to the list of conversations. Also on the logic of keeping the order dynamically updated without overwhelming the customer with shifting UI elements.

After working through the wireframes, reviewing them with the team and iterating, I proceeded to use the wireframes to create a UX specification for the developers. Also, I worked with a visual designer on crafting a cleaner, appealing final product.

Final Product

I had help with the visual design, which I appreciated as it turned out looking substantially better than my wireframes. It was much cleaner looking, visually.

Outcomes

AIM was launched on Android, satisfying customer demand. It quickly took off in terms of logins and messaging traffic.

A year or so later AOL redesigned the entire experience, causing a huge uproar on Google Play, with customers giving it 1 star, asking for the old experience back.

Lessons Learned

  • Working with developers is something, but collaborating makes a team and ultimately creates a better product for the customer
  • It can be (understandably) hard to convince stakeholders of a design direction without having data
  • While a lot of metaphors, conventions and general knowledge and its application carried forward into a touch-based experience, touch also introduced a whole new dimension that I did not take advantage of (especially in retrospect)

Additional Context

AOL Instant Messenger for Android, detailed here, was the last of a long line of mobile instant messaging applications I designed on and off over the course of many years, starting way back working directly with Nokia in 2002 on the first built-in, native mobile IM app over SMS. Indeed, through my extensive work at AOL and the partnerships I had with all the major US carriers (and some outside the US) and major phone manufacturers, my guidelines and requirements ended up driving the user experience of all the first and second generation mobile instant messaging apps. AIM for Android was the first fully touch-oriented interface I designed. I’d collaborated with another team on the design of AIM for Windows Mobile, but that still had to accommodate a stylus (well, OK, Android at this time still had to accommodate a trackball).

One of the most challenging aspects of designing mobile IM had to do with conversation management. Conversations were maintained as separate entities from the Buddy List, much more transient. I co-designed the logic for how they were dynamically re-ordered based on activity (patented by AOL). In even older IM apps, including the ones I’d designed, the customer had to return to the list of conversations to switch to a conversation with a different buddy. With the advent of the larger touch screen – yes, 320×480 was considered a larger mobile screen at one point – I wanted to provide the switching function directly within each conversation, so I designed a ribbon that sat at the top of the screen that would populate with your buddy’s images. Tap someone’s image to switch to that conversation. At the time of this project, there were no dedicated researchers available, so I ended up using my knowledge, skills and experience to design, conduct and report on the findings, iterating the design as needed. Unfortunately, the Buddy Map feature never made it in. Location-based IM and presence could’ve been a contender.