Two weeks in the past we launched HEY into the arena, the end result of 2+ years of explorations and extremely targeted paintings.

It is going with out announcing, however I’ll say it anyway: inventing a new product from scratch is one hell of a problem. It’s the hardest factor you’ll ever do as a product group. There are a million the reason why it gained’t paintings, and 0 promises that it’s going to, so the entire venture is a huge gamble. You simply have buckle up and agree with that you just’ll determine issues out.

Since HEY made a giant splash on arrival, I assumed it’d be amusing to proportion the backstory of how we ended up reinventing email. Because we no doubt didn’t get started via in need of to reinvent email. (That sounds arduous and intractable!)

For the previous a number of years, even pre-dating the paintings on HEY, we spotted some ongoing communications issues at our corporate. They all revolved round exterior email: such things as going from side to side with attorneys, running with advantages suppliers, coping with press shops, accountants, and stuff like that.

It was once too arduous to stay the best other folks within the loop, as a result of we’d have quite a bit of email threads scattered round with other members, and none of them had all the tale. It was once too arduous to get stuck up on a venture that somebody else was once running on with a supplier. And too arduous to hand paintings off when somebody went on holiday or parental depart. At easiest, you’d finally end up with a steaming sizzling pile of forwarded emails, and it was once all a chaotic mess.

This was once in overall distinction to our well-tended inside communications, which all lives tidily in Basecamp (the app), and suffers none of the ones issues. But Basecamp is principally a corporate device, and it’s now not so affordable to ask our miscellaneous distributors to sign up for Basecamp simply to keep up a correspondence with us. So what’s the an identical of Basecamp for the out of doors international?

Well, it didn’t exist! So we started occupied with how we would possibly resolve those issues of a new product.

At first, we have been bearing in mind making a successor to our older CRM product, Highrise. Highrise was once our first take at the exterior communications international, nevertheless it doesn’t do just about sufficient to quilt the entire eventualities we needed to resolve.

And thus, HEY began its existence as a prototype for a conceivable Highrise 2. It was once at the start targeted round paintings issues—now not private email issues.


In May of 2018, Jason and I kicked off the primary paintings on a prototype, in-built Jekyll, which was once code-named Haystack. We have been intent on addressing real-life scenarios immediately, so I requested our Head of People Ops, Andrea, to to find the gnarliest supplier email threads she’d been concerned with lately. She forwarded the entire emails to me, in conjunction with any inside chats she had about the ones emails. Using that supply subject matter, I painstakingly reconstructed the entire conversations into seed knowledge for our prototype. That approach we’d have some genuine stuff to pass judgement on our concepts towards.

We began via designing how those inside/exterior threads would possibly glance and paintings, then steadily labored our approach out to the Inbox view, and in the end stuffed in more than a few supplemental concepts across the edges. We targeted in particular on email ache issues, and discarded any perception of how email “normally works” in want of the way in which we’d preferably need it to paintings, whilst additionally bearing in mind what shall we realistically foresee construction.

After a few months of prototyping, it gave the look of this.

Having explored quite a bit of other examples and core concepts (together with the nascent model of The Screener, the All Files view, and make contact with pages), we felt like we had one thing promising.

None of it in point of fact labored, there have been nonetheless a million unknowns, and rather a lot of options we hadn’t discovered but, however there was once something we have been certain about—it had developed a ways past simply a higher Highrise. If we have been going to construct it, it wanted to transform a whole email service. And if it was once going to be an email service, it wanted to have a private model, of direction!


Phase 2: Building it

By early 2019 we began the method of making HEY genuine. At first we used the prototype’s common skeleton as a basis to get started wiring issues up, however we endured to hone the app’s visible design. Our good advertising clothier Adam joined up, and he helped us shed the entire experimental cruft from the unique design, paring issues again and making the entire thing extra minimum.

Adam additionally evolved the unique colour palettes and menu gradients that become iconic—the ones brilliant pops of colour are sprinkled all over and provides the app a lot of pleasant persona with out being too overwhelming.


Phase 3: Tightening up, including options, and doing the entire arduous paintings

Designing with a group the place everybody has autonomy is a bit like enjoying in a band. Someone seeds an concept, after which somebody else builds on it and takes it elsewhere, then the ones adjustments get promoted into little programs, and over the years the most efficient concepts persist via the entire adjustments. Harmonies be triumphant.

You can see that going down within the screenshots above, nevertheless it in point of fact picked up steam from mid-2019 on, when the entire the corporate got to work in earnest. For a whilst there was once a lot of tug-of-war design and construction between the internet and cellular groups, the place all of us bent and stretched the device for what we would have liked on our respective platforms. Since HEY is a hybrid internet app, we ended up construction a ton of new tech to optimize for UI patterns that will paintings similarly nicely on a telephone or a pc (we’ll be sharing a lot extra about that quickly.) Conor led the way in which on a lot of the ones efforts.

By early 2020 we had labored out maximum of the basics. We had Reply Later and Set Aside, and we had The Feed, which at the moment was once referred to as “Slowbox”.


From then on, the rest paintings was once a routine cycle of sprucing what we already had, and the usage of the product ourselves to work out what was once nonetheless lacking. For instance, in January I realized I used to be having hassle submitting the gobs of junky capitalism emails I repeatedly obtain, so I pitched the theory of a particular position only for that, and the Paper Trail was once born.

Pitch for the Paper Trail (at the start Baconbox 🥓)

We spent the rest months including the entire many, many, many issues you wish to have to unencumber one thing to the out of doors international, like: billing, trials, onboarding, exports, cancellation, safety settings, 2FA, password resets, touch imports, forwarding settings, and a reputedly unending parade of email rendering demanding situations.

All of that infrastructure paintings is a great success for our small group. Creating a dependable, powerful, useful email service isn’t any comic story. We clearly had giant concepts, and sought after to do one thing new and artistic, however we additionally had to do one thing previous and unsexy: make the object if truth be told paintings in addition to merchandise like Gmail. Those platforms were round for 15 years and feature huge quantities of engineering ability backing them up—and we’re simply a handful of other folks running our tails off to make the most efficient factor shall we. It took the total power of every single person at Basecamp to make this occur, particularly our R&D, Ops, and Security groups, who had to invent rather a lot of new programs for us.


We pulled it off 😅, however we’re nonetheless simply slightly getting began. You can see little hints of the place we may well be going subsequent, so keep tuned for a lot extra just right stuff within the coming 12 months!

Curious about our design procedure or the rest? Hit us up within the feedback beneath, or ask me a question on Twitter.

And if you need to give HEY a take a look at, you’ll be able to enroll now over at hey.com.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here