A Better Design for Text Message Platforms

The first cell phone was a $50 flip phone made by Samsung.

I bought it with my own money at fifteen years old, and ever since that day, I’ve been texting people.

My first phone didn’t expect me to text too many people. It had two folders: inbox and sent. New messages were ordered chronologically, newest ones at the top, no matter who they were from. Sometimes this made it difficult to text two or three people at the same time because I would have to scroll down to remind myself what had previously been said.

But I dealt with it.

When I got new flip phone in 2014 (very behind the times, I understand) it compiled messages into “conversations” based on who sent them. This was game changing for me. Now, I could keep all my messages straight, and look back on what I had already said to people. But this phone also didn’t expect me have very many conversations saved because it would only save about 200 messages at a time. Once the box got full, I had to delete all my messages to be able to receive new ones.

But I dealt with it.

In 2016, my phone drowned in the washing machine with my jeans. My friends were aware of my predicament, and I was gifted an iPhone 5c bu my roommate’s girlfriend’s little sister. It was hot pink. This phone saved all my conversations to the cloud, it had a huge screen, and a camera that could actually take photos in the dark. Also, it could connect to the internet. Life changing!

Now, with my iPhone 6s, I’m texting more than ever. Clients text me files to review, my grandma sends me 3 paragraphs about her weekend, my brother texts me memes, my local friends text me to hang out. I have so many text conversations with so many people that I can’t keep track of them all. Like any normal person, I often forget to respond. Then I get called a “bad texter.”

But I’m done dealing with it.

Here’s my proposition for a better text message app design (please forward this to every cell phone company creative executive in your contacts list):

Texts should be categorized by conversation, organized chronologically, and color coded based on their status. Here is my proposition for a better texting platform design. It relies on three color indicators.

  • Color 1 (I vote red) - Messages you haven’t read yet.

  • Color 2 (I vote yellow) - Messages you still need to respond to

  • Color 3 (I vote blue) - Messages you’ve already responded to.

So let’s say I receive a text message while I’m on a phone call. It shows up and is coded red. Then, I open the message and read it during my call, but I decide that I need to take time to consider my response. At this point, the message would turn yellow, since I read it but didn’t respond. Then, after the call, I realize I’m late for lunch! So I jump in the car, drive to lunch, eat, return to my desk and keep working. Then, in the middle of my afternoon slump, I check my messages. There, I can see the conversation coded as yellow, and easily remember that I need to respond. So I craft a quick response and send it. After I send it, the conversation changes blue, telling me I’ve already responded and don’t need to worry anymore.

A design like this would quickly tell me which messages are new, which ones I need to respond to, and which ones I’ve already responded to.

Here’s another scenario: I send my brother a message, asking him a question. The conversation turns blue. An hour later, he responds. That message comes in as red, then turns yellow when I open and read it. My brother’s answer to my question doesn’t elicit much of a response, so I simply slide to one side, changing the conversation from yellow to blue. This gives me control over categorizing my messages into the colors they need to be so I can easily see which ones I need to respond to.

Companies rebrand every decade to keep their look fresh. Social Media platforms add features to make their apps better. I buy new shoes every six months so I don’t look like a slob.

It’s time text message platforms followed suit and got themselves an update already.

Again, please send this post to every cell phone company executive in your contacts list. Together, we can change the world.

Joshua Reese