Sample Thunderbird UI redesign

R Kent James kent at
Fri Nov 18 00:48:42 UTC 2016

On 11/17/2016 2:24 PM, Jörg Knobloch wrote:
> This has already been discussed on the "TB Council" mailing list,
> perhaps Kent can share his views.

I'm not actually the guy in charge of UI, that is more Richard and
Magnus these days. But with that caveat, here's my response, it is not
intended to be private:

Hi Szymon,

You've managed to hit us at a very inconvenient time relative to other
deadlines for releases, but I'll try to give some comments, without
spending large amounts of time looking in detail at what you have done.

... (response for feedback on specific wording of a prototype to their
original blog post)

On the user interface proposal itself:

I would welcome a change in the look of the product while keeping the
existing functionality. The kinds of changes and polish that you are
proposing would be very helpful with new users who are more used to a
different look. But accept this just as my personal comment, realizing
that I am not the guy who typically does or approves user interface changes.

But I have some cautions.

I think that there is an assumption that "It looked like a modernized
product straight out of the 90’s" is obviously bad, without giving
specific reasons that the current design impedes the workflow of people.
Yes look matters, but people use an email client to get real work done.
The interaction of look with functionality also needs considering.

One example: Including picture icons in the thread pane is a challenge,
as they are typically larger than the text, and that results in fewer
lines of viewable messages. This is particularly a problem in our
default Classic view, where the space available to the thread pane is
more limited (you have shown what we would call the "Vertical" view,
that takes three columns rather than our default of two columns. So the
available space for viewing of the thread pane is reduced in your design.)

We at Thunderbird unfortunately do not have a good idea of why and how
people use our product, nor whether our existing design is causing them
problems. But as your blog post shows, you are proposing to modify
Thunderbird so that it effectively looks like very other email client
out there. Like you said, there are "TONS of email clients" yet somehow
we cling to 25,000,000 users. I do not think that it would be wise to
change the existing functional design radically without a better
understanding of why, if there are "TONS of email clients", our users
cling to us rather than switch.

So what I would like to see is a good understanding of the functionality
of the existing user interface (particularly the thread pane), and what
additional functionality is lost or gained by proposed changes other
than "looks more modern" and making it look like every other client. I'm
not saying that what we have is perfect, or that what you have done is
not possibly an improvement, but you have not actually answered the
questions that I think are the most important.

...(comments on how valuable it would be if their organization engaged
more directly with Thunderbird).

R Kent James
Treasurer, Thunderbird Council

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