Slack redesign: New sections for instant messaging, activity, and more features in the messaging app

Slack is many things. Which is kind of a problem. The Salesforce-owned company has spent years creating a group chat app along with an alerts system, file storage system, knowledge base, and all the other things that Slack’s “digital HQ” mantra encompasses. Over time, though, Slack ran out of space, and a lot of those features became either crowded, buried, or both. Ultimately, it even affects the “talk to your team” part of Slack, which itself can be hard to manage when you’re in a lot of workspaces, channels, and group chats.

So Slack is changing. It’s about to roll out its biggest redesign ever, changing the look and layout of the app in hopes of making things easier to find and manage. It’s designed specifically for heavier Slack users, says Noah Weiss, Slack’s chief product officer. Right now, he says, “For end users, you end up switching to all these different workspaces just to see channel activity, mentions you have, topics you’re a part of, and so on.” The redesign was about making Slack a little easier to maneuver.

When you first load Slack, you’ll be taken to a new home page section that looks very similar to Slack’s current interface; Displays your channels, direct messages and applications as you would see in the current application. Then things started to change. What’s most noticeable about Slack is the new sidebar on the left-hand side, which displays all of your Slack stuff in several new ways. There’s a new DMs section that looks like most other messaging and email apps and even Slack’s archenemy, Microsoft Teams: all your conversations are on the left and active conversations are on the right. The idea is to give you a way to manage all your conversations in one place no matter what channel or workspace they come from.

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All your direct messages, in one place, feels like a messaging app.
Photo: Slack

At the bottom of the sidebar is a new Activity window that Weiss calls a “unified inbox”: it shows all your messages, mentions, and reactions across all your Slack workspaces all in one place. It’s not much different than using an app to bring all your emails into one schedule, and Weiss says he hopes it makes it easier for employees to keep track of everything at the start of their day.

An overarching goal for the new design, Weiss says, is to give users more context and more focus. “We think of these as your working patterns,” he says. “I keep track of everything that’s going on, respond to inboxes, sort and respond to all activities, and then go through my to-do list of what I need to keep track of — that’s what organization is, patterns of work rather than types of objects.” For more messy Slack users, everything at once, Slack has been reworking the multi-window system so you can have multiple views open at once.

All of these tools are designed to help with the same challenge: monitoring all the things that happen across all of your Slack channels. Along with all the new views, Slack has also improved its workflow for saving things — there’s now a dedicated later menu in the sidebar, and you can quickly save almost anything in Slack to that page and then add a reminder or turn it off when you’re done. The “save for later” function is already there, of course, but in the new design, more people are likely to find and use it.

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The Activity Feed is intended to help you tame and sort through the chaos that comes with being a Slack user.
Image: Slack

In retrospect, there’s just one hard-to-find feature that Slack tries to feature more prominently. The Huddles video chat feature is now located in the upper-right corner of every chat window, next to a button to create a new board. And if you hit the big plus button in the left sidebar — which Slack calls the “compose” button — you can start a new board or connect the same way you would start a new direct message.

It all doesn’t lead to a complete reorganization of Slack but at least a slightly different way of thinking about the app. Before, there were two things: your list of all your stuff on the side and whatever you’re currently doing in the middle. Now, there’s a third organizational layer in between, which aims to sort and filter all the things you care about in many different ways. “It was about putting all the things we’ve built over time into a place that makes sense,” says Weiss. It will look and feel really different for a lot of users at first, but Weiss is confident that users will love the new tools. And if the show doesn’t resonate, well, that’s why Slack is slowly rolling out new products — and testing them out for a while.

It all doesn’t lead to a complete reorganization of Slack but at least a slightly different way of thinking about the app

Weiss says he hopes the new design creates space for what’s to come from Slack. It won’t stop releasing new features anytime soon, which means it will continue to test the limits of how cluttered and complex the messaging tool can be. “As we add new productivity capabilities, as we integrate some of the latest AI technologies into the product and add more capabilities to automate work, we are trying to protect some parts of it in the future,” he says.

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Slack isn’t really trying to be a messaging app anymore. It’s trying to be more like an operating system for your business, the common platform and one-stop-shop where everything happens and everyone is. Chat is just a tab away now; The future of the product lies everywhere else. We hope you find it now.

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