via Useful School

Solo Project Feb - Mar 2022
My Roles:
  • User Research
  • UX/UI Design
  • Prototype
  • Usability Testing
Spark Mail
Header image of 3 phones showing Spark Mail App and graphics of folders stuffed with mail
I do not work for Spark Mail, and the views expressed in my case study are strictly my own.

As a designer who is a “team of one”, this case study is meant to be an exploratory learning experience with a product I rely on and lacks critical business information that I could only have by working directly with Spark. Ideally, I would be collaborating with Spark’s internal product team with direct access to these resources to guide the outcome of the product. Until then, this case study is meant to be an exploratory learning experience with a product I rely on.
7 screens with a user flow to add a new folder within an email screen. Accompanied with the words, "Organizing your inbox can be a lot easier"


Most of us rely heavily on their mail clients. They are often robust products with many features that the user is typically unaware of. Users often neglect to organize their inbox because they get lost looking for basic functions like adding to or creating folders.

Spark is a robust, feature laden app that has the potential to enhance any workflow, but users often leave value on the table. The folder features built into the app make organizing mail effortless, but freelancers are not leveraging them.


Many businesses and their teams rely heavily on their mail clients. They are often robust products with many features that users are typically unaware of. I wanted to understand what users wanted out of their mail clients and if the solution was to simplify. Users often neglect to organize their inbox because they get lost looking for basic functions.

Spark is a robust, feature laden app that has the potential to enhance any workflow, but users often leave value on the table. The features built into the app make organizing mail effortless, but users are not leveraging them.


In this case study I research user experiences with their mail clients and uncover data-informed opportunities where improvements can be leveraged.

My goal is to discover user insights and synthesize a solution that users find intuitive and also wouldn't disrupt their workflow, as most users rely on their routines and habits for effective communication.
3 phones with Spark Mail's current app screens.

Spark's Current Experience

I've been using Spark Mail for almost a year, and the overall design and experience has been excellent. Delightfully, the desktop and mobile UX both offer a consistent standard of excellence. Despite any pain points I've encountered, it's the best mail client I've tried so far.

At the top of Spark’s value proposition is the product’s collaboration features. Not only can users share team inboxes but users can co-author emails in the same way they collaborate in a Google Doc.

But the about the users who don’t need these robust collaboration features? Are their other basic needs are ignored?
Screen shots of typeform responses highlighting interesting pieces of data

Defining The Problem Space:
Research & Insights

I interviewed 17 freelancers about their mobile mail clients and email habits to better understand how small teams communicate.

I discovered:
  • Most users recognized that they needed a better system to organize their mail
  • But they remained unmotivated to inquire further
  • Apprehension toward adopting organization features was predicated on the perception that their mobile apps were generally convoluted and unpleasant

Freelancers aren't necessarily teams-of-one and 7 mentioned that they wanted "more" features. Thanks to this data I realized that I needed to shift my focus from a creating a simpler mail client to exploring opportunities of improvement with the existing app.

Testing Spark's Current App

My only criteria for users who participated in the test was that they are freelancing at least 30 hours a week. I wanted to make sure that the users were familiar with the need or desire to have an organized Inbox to operate their business successfully.

Prompt For User-A

Freelances at least 30hr a week.

Download Spark Mail. Sync an email account. Organize your email by sender or subject for 10 minutes.

Do you feel comfortable using this organization system?
Would you continue to use it?
Actually no. I had some difficulty on this particular app to Sort, set a preference of emails to be displayed either by sender or by subject.

General Observations

  • Folders were not easy to find, especially if you don’t already have folders
  • When tasked to create folders and sort emails, the user spent 2min 50sec before finding the Add Folder button
  • User would not use the app if they were to rely on it for anything besides general or personal inbox
  • User had difficulty adding a smart folder when prompted to add filters, as it is not clear what the function of the filters are.
  • The user was not told to add a smart folder and did not see the function to add a regular Folder which is at the very bottom of the settings.
How might we...un-complicate basic features like folders so that users aren't intimidated to take control and organize their Inboxes?

User Persona

  • Late 20s to early 50s
  • Works on a small team
User Goals
  • Wants to find emails faster
  • Wants a 0-inbox inbox
  • Wants to spend less time on their phone
  • Wants better work-life balance
  • Wants to not think about the process too much
User Motivations
  • Enjoys feeling put together
  • Enjoys feeling focused
  • Is a people pleaser
  • Motivated by getting the job done
  • Motivated by the hustle
  • Motivated by notoriety
When Not Using Spark
  • Not distracted by non-essential emails
  • Focused on their work
  • Free of stress
  • Thinking about finances
  • Thinking about travel
  • Engulfed in the podcast they’re listening to
What Other Apps They Use
  • Pocket Cast
  • DarkSky
  • Slack
  • Calendly
  • Hinge
  • Venmo
  • Logo Package
  • Visual Brand Assets
  • New Webflow Website
Screen shots of a Notion table outlining a users emotional journey to create an inbox folder

Journey & Emotions Map

Based on my research and testing, the process was difficult and left the user frustrated which lead the users to abandon their goals of organizing their Inbox. Potentially discouraging the user from folders altogether.
images of my wireframe sketches and their digitized Figma versions

Three Distinct User Flow Improvements

  • Adding a tag feature in the Email View
  • Placing the Add To Folder button to the top of an Email
  • Adding a New Folder button to the initial Inbox Menu

Prototype Iteration 1

In my first prototype I prioritized a flow similar to my existing data because I wanted to be able to make direct comparisons to the User A’s test which navigated Spark's Inbox Menu. For this flow, I asked the user to create a new folder from the Menu View.

Test the prototypes here!

User Testing Quotes

I received 3-times the amount of feedback shown below. The major through line between almost all of the users was the lack of clarity and understanding surrounding the differences between a regular folder and a smart folder, what smart folders do, and what the function of their filters are.
User 1
  • I don't yet feel 100 percent clear on the difference on folders and smart filters.
  • It's rare that I know what folder I want to start with. It's far more common I see an email and realize, "oh, I should create a folder for this. It would be nice to be able to create folders from specific emails and have that email "start" the folder
  • I really like that you showed multiple email addresses, because that to me indicates that my folders can transcend my inboxes!
User 2
  • its familiarity with other services that I’ve used. Made it intuitive to use and ensured that I understood its logic
  • I find with Smart Folders the problem can be me not being sure how it works. I say that because I feel live I’ve used Smart Folders before and emails slip through and I wondered how the system works.
User 3
  • Once i get to the work flow its the easiest smart folder i’ve seen
  • I’m use to different verbiage and didn’t understand what a filter was doing

Prototype Iteration 2

What Worked
I received positive feedback about the ease with which users could create a new folder from the simplified Menu.
What Didn't Work
Users did not readily discern the functions of Smart Folders or Filters. I believe this is primarily an issue with the terms used for these features.

What I Did

For my second high fidelity solution, I experimented with an opportunity that allows Users to create a folder within the Email View. I experimented with the idea that Users would likely be doing this more often than creating a new folder without an email in mind first.

Future Opportunities

If given the opportunity to collaborate with the Spark team on a broader scale, I would:
Conduct More User Interviews & Tests
Getting more user interviews would be the most important step in creating a better case study. I chose to feature Spark App as a case study because I rely on it for my freelance business. I have a certain passion for email and organization. It's the second most used app on my phone so I need the input of other freelancers to help me see past my own biases and desires so that I can understand the pain points I have not yet encountered.
Conduct A Feature Audit
Based on my interviews and tests, my hypothesis that Spark Mail has too many features for individuals and small teams was validated. As a result many basic functions are buried and many users feel lost.
Hire A UX Writer
When testing my prototype the most common pain point for users is not knowing the difference between the two types of folders. Specifically smart folders, where you have to utilize a type of filter tag but there is no description of what a filter is and the instructions are vague and only add to the confusion. A UX writer would help me uncover effective microcopy that gives Users guidance that is clearer and helpful.
A/B Test Verbiage
Testing my prototype revealed that users are familiar with the concepts of smart folders and filters. The verbiage is unfamiliar to most so constructing singular phrases that resonate across multiple audiences can remedy the confusion.
a gif 7 screens with a user flow to add a new folder which changes to an updated versions of each screen.

Prototype Iteration 3:
Professional Feedback

After I completed my initial round of user testing I reached out to 5 Senior level and Principal level product designers from Headspace, Netflix, Teachable, Nava, and Slack for their feedback on my prototype UI. Below are a few pieces of insight they were generously offering which lead me to land on my third and most recent prototype iteration.

Below is a few pieces of insight they were generously offering that lead me to land on my third and most recent prototype iteration.
Professional 1
  • Things are in pretty logical spots to add a new folder.
  • The info is also a little confusing… I’m just not sure as a user exactly how the “smart folder” works and if I can trust it… I feel like I need more info and/or an example or something.
  • The star in the input field for writing the name of the smart filter is odd… would make more sense to be above in the title that say “Add Smart Filter”.
  • A little nit-picky, but for the text inputs it makes more sense for the keyboard to be the trigger rather than the input when it’s active.
Professional 2
  • Overall I think the user flow makes sense!
  • As a user, I wanted to know what a Smart Folder was before having to flip the toggle. I was also a little confused on the difference between the concepts of a "Smart Folder" versus a "Smart Filter" — Do Smart Folders use filters to determine which emails are automatically put into that folder?
  • I'm not sure how the star icon relates to the Smart Filter text input — Does the star appear elsewhere in the UI?
Professional 3
  • [The input field] looks like a search field as opposed to a text input for naming something. Here's an example of a typical iOS row for naming and a row with a toggle.
  • I also recommend clearer copy for [the new folder button]. The plus icon is fairly clear, but having the text say "New folder" or "Create new folder" would eliminate any possible confusion.
  • Minor: buttonless iPhones usually have a top safe area of 44. It would help these icons not clash with the notch. Minor, but it makes the prototype feel a bit more legit.


When I began this project I felt confident that others shared my initial assumptions about needing a simpler mail client with fewer features and a simpler interface. However, the data insights I received early on in the process lead me to discard my assumptions and I surrendered to the direction the data was pointing. From then on I felt more confidence in my explorations and prototyping because there was research justifying my choices.

Get In Touch

If this case study SPARKED your interest in my user research, product design, or branding skills and are interested in working with me, contact me via this page or at the links below.

Thank you so so much for reading. My name is Simon and I'm based in Portland, OR. Have a wonderful day!