- Technology

Slack unveils its biggest redesign yet

Slack is unveiling a big redesign to its communications app that starts rolling out today to make things a lot simpler to use. If you’re a Slack user, you’re probably used to some of the quirky ways the chat app works and how parts of the user interface are hard to discover and customize. Slack is trying to address some of these flaws with far better sidebar customization, a new compose button, a top navigation bar, and many other tweaks and changes.

“This is the largest redesign in Slack’s history,” explains Ethan Eismann, vice president of design at Slack, said. “We’ve taken a lot of the historical features and reorganized them in a way that makes them much more apparent in the right way and simple to use. That was very much the goal of this process.”

Slack’s new redesign all starts with the sidebar. The biggest change is that messages, channels, and apps will all now support grouping into collapsible sections within the Slack sidebar. That means if you’re working on a project that has certain channels and group DM conversations, then you can nest them all under one handy section and drag and drop it to exactly where you want it in the sidebar. Unfortunately, the new sidebar sections feature will only be available on paid Slack plans, not free versions.

There’s also a big new compose button in the sidebar that works as a universal way to start a message anywhere in Slack. You can start drafting a message as a DM or straight into a Slack channel, and Slack will load in the relevant message history within the draft view before you hit send.

Searching for people or channels and reacting to threads and mentions has always been a little clunky in Slack, but that’s also greatly improved now. There’s a new section in the sidebar for People and Mentions & reactions. Both were buried away before, and you’ll now be able to quickly see mentions or channel pings, and find people you want to DM. You’ll even be able to customize the width of the sidebar and tweak its color with 11 new themes soon.

A new top navigation bar also helps with search in Slack and lets you switch between channels and search. You can navigate back and forth within Slack using the new navigation bar, so you can quickly flick between channels and DMs. It even supports keyboard shortcuts or mouse buttons that you’d usually use for navigating back in a web browser.

Elsewhere, Slack is also getting a lot of minor UI changes to clean up channel details panes, menus, preferences, and even an increase in spacing throughout. It should all add up to a Slack app that feels a little easier to use and is less cluttered.

”The design of Slack was more complicated than we really felt like it should be,” admits Eismann. “We want to make sure it’s easy for anyone to use Slack. It’s important that Slack is adaptable to the way people work.”

Slack actually used the Slack service and its customers to redesign the communications app. Slack created a shared channel between its product managers, engineers, designers, and around 100 external “Slack champions” who are Slack administrators or help roll out the app at businesses.

“They were in one workspace, and we were in another and we were able to deploy these prototypes to them,” reveals Eismann. “They gave us feedback in real time, and they also started giving each other feedback and having conversations with each other. It was this iterative back and forth co-creation process, with immediate feedback.”

Around 30 different companies participated, and it allowed Slack to understand the impact of design changes almost immediately.

While most of the changes will be on the desktop / web side of Slack today, the company is also planning a redesign for its mobile app in the coming weeks. “We’re thinking about the mobile use cases… and really optimizing for content on the go,” says Jaime DeLanghe, director of product management at Slack. That includes catching up quickly in between meetings and cleaning up DMs or mentions.

I got to see an early glimpse of what the new Slack mobile will look like, and there’s now dedicated home, DMs, and mentions buttons at the bottom of the interface. The classic sidebar still exists, but it looks like navigation is also going to improve on mobile.

All of the new desktop changes start rolling out today, just as many businesses increasingly turn to remote working to cope with the novel coronavirus pandemic. It’s certainly interesting (and bold) timing, given the increase in demand that online services are seeing right now. Slack’s main rival, Microsoft Teams, experienced an outage earlier this week as demand for the service increased, and Xbox Live and Discord have both had service issues recently, too.

Slack is pushing ahead regardless, and new users can expect to see the new UI starting today. Slack is rolling this out to new users first, thanks to the increase in remote working and to avoid people new to the app having to learn different versions. Everyone else will start to see the new design showing up in the coming weeks.

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