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Lotus Notes, a Lesson in Poor UX

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As a longtime Outlook user, I've had the exciting experience of learning how to use Lotus Notes. When first starting to use it I was shocked at how "clunky" the user interface seemed, but wrote it off as my long familiarity with outlook. Recently, however, I started to realize that I was being too generous. Notes is full of user experience bad enough that I feel I need to point a couple out lest any young engineers try to design user interfaces based on them.

These things are actually a combination of how Notes works as well as pretty poor administration of the tool. There are some settings which, when you log out of a tool, your personal preferences are reset, but others where they are saved. As two quick examples, I give you the following:


By default, when sending email, Notes prompts with the following dialog:

By itself, it is not a HUGE problem, we're not only giving you the option to save or not save in "sent items", but also cancel what you were trying to do.

The problem is that this is a pointless dialog and reflects something that most people answer 1 time in their entire life and never want to think about again. Asking them for EVERY single email is a waste of time and mental energy. There should be a checkbox that indicates "Save my response" and then the user should never see this dialog again. If they should change their mind, they should go to their preferences, dig around, find the setting, then change it. This is a subtle case of overengineering the user interface for edge cases instead of optimizing the routine flow.

Buttons, Buttons, and more Buttons!

This next example is so funny, I actually laughed out loud at work

If you start writing an email and try to close the message without saving it, you're prompted with the following dialog:

I give the engineer who thought this was a good idea, high marks for completeness (he missed discard & save, which is only slightly less confusing than this dialog), but they seriously missed the mark on simplicity and usability. Every time this happens I have to stop and read every nondescript, equal sized button for a cue on which one I want.

In this example, closing the message without sending or saving really should elicit the following question ONLY: "Would you like to save your message before closing?" This dialog should have two buttons, "Yes", and "No". Any other buttons, prompts, or information is too much. period. I MIGHT be able to be convinced of a cancel button, if it was less prominent or located away from the other two, but that is iffy. It is an example of the mentality in the first screen shot taken to larger proportions.

These well intentioned dialogs are examples of trying to accomodate edge cases by detuning the "normal" flow. This ends up creating a system that supports neither as well as it could. Putting questions in front of a user that they answer 99% the exact same answer is often just as bad as not prompting and doing destructive actions without warning them in the big picture. In the case of closing an email without saving it, I've done it, I've lost emails... Well, not in Gmail because it autosaves and I NEVER have to worry about this problem, I just go to my drafts folder to look for something I haven't sent yet.

Published at DZone with permission of Michael Mainguy, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Lund Wolfe replied on Mon, 2013/01/21 - 4:54am

I feel your pain.  Lotus Notes is only barely functional.  I don't think anyone uses Lotus Notes that isn't required to use it per company policy.  The last man standing is Thunderbird, which isn't a bad email client.  Thunderbird works well with gmail, which is a great email server, and the best of the webmail clients, such as they are.

Andrew Gilmartin replied on Mon, 2013/01/21 - 8:48am

Thunderbird has been put into maintenance.

Andrew Gilmartin replied on Mon, 2013/01/21 - 8:52am

Lotus Notes was designed to be a collaborative, replicated document repository. At this it was outstanding and its interface and user experience were state-of-the-art for its day. Today it seems to have been pushed beyond its original purposes and made to act like tools it should not be. It is too bad because the greater internet community has been waiting for a collaborative, replicated document repository forever.

Mat Newman replied on Mon, 2013/01/21 - 5:48pm

a) Yes/No/Cancel

It's not a default, it's set in your user preferences as an option asking whether you want to save the message you're sending in your mail database, which at the moment you have set to "Always Prompt", ie: Ask Me if I want to keep a copy of the message.

File -> Preferences -> Mail -> Sending and Receiving -> Save copies of Messages I Send

Choices are:

  • Always,
  • Never,
  • Ask Me

You have "Ask Me" set.

b) the "Send Mail" dialog

Again, a choice thing.  the options are pretty straight forward:

  • Send & Save: Send the message, and save it in my mail database
  • Send Only: Send the message, do not keep a copy,
  • Save Only: Do not send the message, save it in my 'Drafts' folder
  • Discard: Discard this message, do not send, do not keep a copy
  • Cancel: Continue editing this message

These are not 'edge cases', these are legitimate choices for handling a message by using keyboard accelerators to work faster therefore be more productive.

Eg: You can close a message, send it and save it by pressing [ESC] (escape) and then using the [S] key (notice one letter on each of the buttons is underlined). [ESC] + [S].

Compare this feature-rich list of choices with another popular system where one must hit the "Reply" button to be presented with a dialog allowing the choice to "Forward" a message. Now that's a great UI!

Oh, one final note: IBM Lotus Notes has had Autosave for at least 14 years:

File - > Preferences -> BASIC -> Autosave every ... minutes

Wayne Borean replied on Mon, 2013/01/21 - 9:10pm

Damn, there's still someone using Outlook? That's so 90s.


Mark Unknown replied on Tue, 2013/01/22 - 9:54am in response to: Wayne Borean

+1 to Wayne

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