Slack updates its UI to give users more focus time and simplify navigation

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright August 9, 2023
A new UI starts rolling out to give Slack users new views to sharpen focus, simpler enterprise navigation, and make it easier to start their next task.

Slack activity view - Salesforce screengrab
Slack activity view (Salesforce screengrab)

Messaging and teamwork platform Slack is refreshing its User Interface (UI) today to make it easier to keep track of important activity and use features it's introduced over the couple years, such as huddles and Canvas, while easing navigation across multiple channels for users in large enterprises. While the familiar home page remains largely unchanged, a reorganized left sidebar includes shortcuts to dedicated views where users can focus on specific sets of tasks.

Accommodating these more focused work patterns is probably the most significant addition to the new UI, as Brad Monroe, Senior Product Manager for Conversations, Search & Channels at Slack, explains:

We know that users were craving the ability to have more dedicated or focused views — have Slack let them essentially be a little bit more heads-down or focused throughout their workday. In the current version of Slack, you always see your sidebar with all the different badges and bolding and notifications popping up constantly, which can be pretty distracting if you're trying to do some focused work.

In this redesign, we wanted to carve out, what are those specific jobs? Maybe I'm coming back from being away for a few days from work and I really just need to focus in on my DMs because I know my one-on-one DMs are really the ones that matter most to me. Or maybe I just want to focus in on where were people at-mentioning me, because that means they need my attention a little bit more.

The three new dedicated views are for direct messages (DMs), activity — which brings together mentions, reactions, app notifications, channel invitations and so on — and 'later', a feature launched earlier this year where users can store items to go back to.

No fear of missing out

To save users from fear of missing out while focusing on a specific channel or view, the new UI also adds a feature called peek, which lets the user see the content of a notification without having to switch context. Monroe explains:

Say you're deep in focus here in a channel, but you see a notification come in. All you have to do is hover over 'activity' and you'll get a peek of what that new notification was. If you want to, you can see it and just continue back with what you're doing. You don't have to navigate in order just to even see what's going on. Those peeks provide a really nice way of staying up to date without losing track of what's currently in front of you.

The new UI simplifies navigation for users in large organizations who are part of an Enterprise Grid instance with multiple workspaces. Previously this meant users had to switch through multiple home pages for each of those workspaces. Monroe goes on:

As a user it meant a lot of navigation throughout your day, which was just a big tax to pay just to get caught up on all your channels. Now, you'll see all of those channels just in one list here. And of course, you can customize them into your sections if you'd like. You can filter them down, if your enterprise has multiple workspaces, and you only want to see the channels from a particular workspace ...

Now you don't have to navigate through a lot of different homes, you just have one version of home that has all of your channels in it from across our company.

New create menu

A new 'create' menu brings together several different tools that Slack has introduced such as huddles for audio and video collaboration and the shared canvas. Previously these various tools each had separate entry points, depending on how they were originally introduced. He explains:

The create options were a bit admittedly scattered around the interface. To create a channel, you'd go into the header. To create a message, there was a button. To create a canvas was a different entry point. And to create a huddle was a different thing. It's one of those areas that, as our toolset has evolved over the past year or two, we noticed the need to simplify that for a user. I just want to create it — show me my options of what I can create.

The new UI brings a two-panel design to the search function, so that users can see a list of search results in one pane and scroll through the details of each result in the second pane, rather than switching back and forth from the result list to each answer in turn.

Other UI changes include a new theming system that allows users to change the colour, appearance and translucency of what their app looks like, and more rounded avatars. Users will start seeing the new UI over the coming weeks. It's the first UI makeover since Salesforce acquired Slack two years ago.

The changes have been designed to introduce as little disruption as possible for existing users, but there will be some adjustment, as Monroe concedes:

We know change is hard, and there's some muscle memory involved with doing something a certain way that you've done it for years. There'll be a period of change and adjustment that users will need. But we firmly believe that some of the improvements that we're making here, like those new dedicated views, for example, will really allow users to get more out of Slack and stay a bit more focused, even though there will be that little bit of change period that is inevitable with any sort of redesign like this ...

We've been very cognizant about, what do we intentionally keep the same to help balance out the things that we are moving around or adding into the experience so that not everything is entirely brand new, and you have to go from zero to 100, the moment you get this update. And of course, we'll have some onboarding, in-app information for users as they come into this experience, so that we can help welcome them to the new redesign, and to help show them the lay of the land.

My take

One of the challenges of a constantly-evolving application is keeping it intuitive and simple as new features are added. Several of these changes are welcome and should help users stay productive.

The new UI also lays the groundwork for adding further capabilities in ways that users will find easy to adopt. It's unusual these days for an announcement from Salesforce to have no mention whatsoever of generative AI. But with the annual Dreamforce jamboree just a few weeks away now, we're entering that period where Salesforce announcements typically hold back some gunpowder for the big event. Monroe wasn't letting on, but I wouldn't be surprised to see some AI-based capabilities being added to that new 'create' menu next month ...

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