As I described in an earlier post, a product designer’s ability to anticipate user actions can result in the kinds of features that help a product to stand out from the crowd, or just plain make users happy. Some of the best designs build features and interactions that are so smooth the user doesn’t even realize what’s in front of them. Others pop out at you, like the brilliant Gmail attachment reminder prompt.
I send attachments via email all the time, and often I either get wrapped up in writing the email, or get distracted by something for a few minutes, and come back to finish and send it. Inevitably, I forget to attach the file I’ve said I’m sending to whomever the recipient is. Gmail has a great reminder feature that works by doing a quick scan of the body of your email. If you’ve said ‘attach’ or some variation of that word, but didn’t attach a file, Gmail prompts you to ask if you mean to send the message without an attachment.
This is a really simple, yet really brilliant feature. It represents holistic thinking about what a user does (or rather, doesn’t do), when interacting with an email program. I have no inside knowledge as to how Google designs its features, but if I were to think of this feature in general agile development terms, I think it’s the type of requirement that would come of some in-depth discussions about user types. I’ve said before that companies need to go beyond the ‘As a user, I want to …. ‘ user story, and instead dream up all the possible personality types they can. In this case, had someone defined a “busy user dealing with regular interruptions,” or “forgetful user that writes really long emails,” they may have come up with this concept. Of course, thinking about what people don’t do can be conceptually more difficult than thinking about the core use cases a program has, but it’s in coming at problems sideways or with some different perspective that features like this are thought up.