Redefining WhatsApp’s relevance in the post-Covid world— a UI/UX case study

Fig. 1

Disclaimer: The research for this case study was conducted before 10th March 2021 any updates of WhatsApp after this date are not accounted for in the case study.

Why redesign?

I’m nervous sharing this casestudy. WhatsApp is a successful product, everything is so well designed that I can’t touch anything without compromising on some other aspect. But there are some issues the with the product and I’ll try to improve its experience and even if I could find one single real problem and it’s solution, I’ll consider this casestudy a success.

I’ll try to be very critical and will restraint myself from doing anything which is not extremely important from the product growth’s POV.

Group call experience

Premise:

Before jumping into the redesign, for at least a month I tried using WhatsApp with more awareness hoping that I’ll find things that can be improved and I felt that there was nothing as such which bothered me but slowly I got aware of the fact that any product’s experience doesn’t exist in isolation. Every product exists in an ecosystem (collection of products) because we use many products and with each product our expectation of the space changes which makes this space highly volatile.

I started paying more attention to the ecosystem rather than just focusing on WhatsApp. During lockdown I was working at Avalon Labs, we had all of our discussions on WhatsApp (groups) but we were moving to discord. This was very interesting as we didn’t move to discord because there was something wrong with WhatsApp, we moved because Discord was better and more efficient in so many ways.

This made me realize that I can’t just stick to the identifying problems but rather I need to look for opportunities. I need to observe what’s happening then speculate what is going to happen and adapt.

“You either evolve or you disappear.”

— Tupac

Covid19 changed everything, products like google meet, zoom, discord, etc were everywhere. Now, people are having meetings, attending weddings, birthday parties, workshops, consulting doctors, consulting trainers, connecting with family, teaching, learning, streaming, building communities, etc on these products.

Current zoom call workflow:

1. Open zoom and start a meeting

2. Copy invite code

3. Share it with people on WhatsApp

4. Wait for them to send a request

5. Accept the request and start talking

Imagine all of that reduced to one click. People already trust WhatsApp. Their family, friends, and colleagues are here it’s the best place to have video calls.

Fig. 2 (Zoom/meet links shared on Whatsapp)

1. Participant limit in group calls & Inconsistent group call experience

Currently, if the group has up to 8 participants, the user can directly make a group call but if more than 8 participants then the user needs to select participants and then start an audio/video call. It’s not a consistent experience. (refer Fig. 5, below)

Is it really necessary to limit the number of participants in a group call? What purpose does it solve?

Pain points:

  • “Group calls” are not associated with the respective groups in any way. Call logs do not mention the group name but show the number of participants & incoming calls does not show group name or the number of participants. This makes the whole experience confusing.
  • It’s like a private conference call that has nothing to do with the group. Technically it can not be called a “group call”
  • Chat and call logs both represent different kinds of info. Which makes it difficult to go back and see when they had that call and what did they discuss after that, etc.
Fig. 3
  • Inconsistent experience of making a group call (up to 8 participants VS more than 8 participants).
Fig. 4
  • Both flows are very different in groups with up to 8 participants user can make a direct call and with more than 8 participants they need to select participants (max 7), then start either audio or video call.
Fig. 5
  • and why only 8 participants!? that’s a limitation, there are many important groups like family, friends, class groups, workgroups that have more than 8 participants.
  • Participant limit will harm the WhatsApp web experience as it has the potential to be used for work meetings, workshops, consultations, family gatherings, etc, and can potentially compete with google meet and zoom.

Proposed solution:

Making group call experience a real group call experience!

  • No participant limit for the group calls (Maybe 100)
  • Users can make group calls directly without selecting participants. Making a consistent experience for both types of groups, no need to select participants for groups with more than 8 participants.
  • If users want to make a new group call by selecting participants they can but from primary call CTA. In chat, there will be a message about the call. We would still have that separate call section but in the chat section, we would see all the messages/activity in chronological order. And separating audio calls, video calls, and group calls so, it’s easier for the user to navigate as this reduces repetitive confusing flows.
  • Users don’t need to have a list of contacts especially frequent contacts just after clicking primary call CTA as in the log section we already see recent calls and on the main chat page, we can easily click on any contact then start an audio or video call.
  • Incoming call by the group name and who started the call. Similarly, in call logs.
  • Mentioning call logs inside the group-chat.
  • Screen share / Mobile screen share

2. Ongoing group call & call logs

If the no. of people increases, to make it a hassle-free experience it should treat it as a channel rather than a normal call.

Ability to enter/exit an ongoing group call, maybe like discord voice channels.

Pain points:

  • In group calls like meetings, family gatherings, online classes, etc. we often take our time to settle down before we join. We make sure that the room is closed, maybe check the lights, change the t-shirt, wash face, get a water bottle or a coffee, etc. because it's good to be prepared and presentable but WhatsApp does not allow that. Either you join it right away or it will keep on ringing.
  • Everybody might not be available at that particular instance, it’s reasonable to allow them to join later.
  • What if there are multiple group calls happening at a time. Users should be able to see on which groups people are hanging out.

Proposed solution:

  • Able to see if people are hanging out on a group(call) and the flexibility to join/leave that call.
  • Ongoing & Active group call
  • A user receives a call and they can decline but still have the option to join later.
  • A notification about the call would be sent, with how many people are on that call.

3. Managing a group call

The biggest challenge with bigger groups is to manage them.

Tools for managing group calls.

Things to consider:

  • Who can make a call? (By default)
  • Who can speak/participate? (By default)
  • Who can mute?

Possible solution:

  • Admins and moderators can make calls.
  • In group settings, the admin can change who can start a call and who all can speak/participate.
  • Admin/moderator can mute people on an ongoing call.

Status experience

Premise:

“WhatApp is not a social media, people only use it to chat.”

This is a very popular conception, even I'm somewhat in agreement with this statement. But it’s not that simple, it’s not black and white because if WhatsApp is just a chatting platform then why would they ever introduce status at all?

We can assume that chatting is the primary function and status is just an additional feature, that explains the current hierarchy of information architecture (status as the second section). But it can be argued that status can be a very powerful feature if used properly? As it complements that chat and encourages more engagement. Statuses can potentially increase the app usage time?

I did some secondary research and found that few articles stated that for the older generation, WhatsApp is the ultimate social media platform.

Here are some statements:

“To my parents, WhatsApp isn’t just an instant messenger,” said Devang Pathak, a 25-year-old writer from Mumbai. “It’s an entire social network.”

“Honestly, Facebook is a little complex for me,” said my mother. “And it’s not a place where I can reach everyone I care about at once as I can do in a WhatsApp group.

“I won an award at work last month and I didn’t want to blow my own trumpet on Facebook,” said a fifty-something aunt who declined to be named. “But I put it in my WhatsApp family group because that’s the only circle of people I care about telling it to anyway.”

Source: Older Indians Drive Millennials Crazy On WhatsApp. This Is Why They’re Obsessed.

This proves that WhatsApp lies somewhere in between. It is social media but not like Instagram or Facebook. It’s private. And the mere fact that WhatsApp introduced status, reinforces this argument.

4. Increasing engagement through Status accessibility & Main navigation hierarchy

Stories, fleets, shorts, etc are huge successes as these are a good way to share stuff casually, they disappear in 24 hours. So people don’t have to think a lot before posting, resulting in more content and this potentially increases app usage time. Aiding they are accessible (located at the top on the front page)

But Whatsapp status is in a different format than Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter. Resulting in poor accessibility and hence, inefficient main menu(chats, status & calls) hierarchy.

Analysis & Improvements:

  • Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, etc. all use the same format for stories and all the users are pretty familiar with it. Why give them a different format for the same thing? When a user uses multiple products it subconsciously creates expectations, they expect things to act in a certain way. Example: We expect that the logout button would be in settings, etc. This consistent language makes a product more familiar and hence more usable.
  • WhatsApp Statuses should be more accessible (Fewer steps to reach means more people will use it). If people use it more often it will increase the app usage time and hopefully they might stop spamming groups with good morning messages.
  • Chat & Calls can be the two main sections as they are equally important and belong in the same category but the status & camera do not. Status can be included in chats and the camera can be moved to the top left corner. I believe it won’t be distracting. Sensory adaptation: it refers to a reduction in sensitivity to a stimulus after constant exposure to it. While sensory adaptation reduces our awareness of a constant stimulus, it helps free up our attention and resources to attend to other stimuli in the environment around us.
  • Chats & Calls at the bottom is a better place as statuses occupy the header and from the ergonomic point of view, it is more intuitive to use.
  • Now there are more action buttons increasing the probability of engagement. Primary + CTA (includes all possible actions, will be discussed in another section), status CTA & camera at the top left.
  • The rings are representing the status and number segments represent the number of statuses.
  • To view Profile photo or (chat, audio call, video call, info). Chat — you can open chat directly so this doesn’t make sense. Audio and video calls — the number of clicks taken is the same. so no point in showing such buttons, when the user can directly access them. It’s inefficient to create 2 flows for the same thing, as people are more familiar with opening chat and then make calls or go to info.
  • At first, I thought both profile photo and status can be accessed from the profile photo but it felt very invasive. This status rings around profile seems distracting because already we have the number of text highlighted in green, mute icon in grey, plus recent text, etc.
    Note: in the final iteration, status is not accessible from the profile photo.

Archive

5. Improving archive experience for the organized inbox:

On WhatsApp, we have various kinds of groups. Generally, we are not active in the group but we don’t want to leave either.

Let’s assume you are part of 4–5 active groups that means they’ll be at the top all the time because of the frequency of texts. The user might miss some important messages that they intend to revert later.

Users can mute these groups to avoid notifications but they’ll show up at the top in chats and to counter that users might need to pin important chats.

This doesn’t give users sufficient control over their inbox. Yes, we have an archive feature but due to its poor utility and accessibility very few use it.

Here are the problems:

  • To access archive chats you need to scroll to the bottom of the chats, that’s extremely inconvenient, it’s not intuitive at all. Even I didn’t know to access the archive you had to scroll to the bottom, that’s why I never used this feature.
  • You can archive chats but if you reply or receive a text they automatically move out from the archive. Which defeats the whole point of archiving.
  • Archived chats are not muted in any sense, which means we can only have dead chats in the archive that don’t make any sense because non-active chats never bother anyone, they move down.

Proposed solution:

  • Archived chats are accessible from the drop-down menu. Easy access means more people can use it without any hassle.
  • While adding the archive to the drop-down I saw an opportunity to improve the drop-down design by grouping similar actions and tweaking the copy (“new group” -> “create new group”). And more importantly, a dark background overlay is added to reduce distractions.
  • Archived chat stays in archived chat until the user moves it out manually. Gives more control over the inbox, if the user wants they can manually check archived chats easily from the drop-down.
  • It’s also accessible from the bottom but with better readability. Mentioning the number of contacts and groups inside the archive.
  • Archived chats are muted, the user will not receive any notifications.
  • This gives users multiple ways to organize their inbox (mute, pin & archive)

Other potential improvements

  1. Status for groups
  2. Pinned messages
  3. Polls
  4. Edit messages
  5. Reply message with emojis

Learnings

Here are things that this case study taught me:

  1. I knew that it is risky to work on any successful product but after doing this I learned why. There is almost no way you can know the product’s vision for the future or the data that have dictated their design decisions.
  2. The user base is so huge that it’s next to impossible to focus on any particular use case.
  3. This attempt broadened my perspective about design, I realized that there is an insane number of variables responsible for any design decision and a good designer is someone who figures out which variables are more important.
  4. I was ignorant, I thought I could handle the complexity of WhatsApp but I was wrong. One brain can only be seen from few perspectives
  5. I started asking for feedback from all the good designers that I know. This was the biggest source of learning. I realized that discussions & collaborations are the sources of new ideas, working in isolation is not solve problems.
  6. I fell in love with the solutions, I thought I own these ideas. So, I couldn’t take any kind of criticism or feedback. I felt attacked when they pointed out the problems with my ignorant solutions.

I would like to thank all those people who spend their time giving feedback and having discussions on this case study. I’m really grateful that we did this. I don’t

That’s it for now.

It’s a work in progress, will keep on updating it till I’m satisfied with the case study.

I hope you guys found it useful and informative. Feel free to share your suggestions. I would be more than happy to have a conversation.

Thank you! :)

--

--

--

Product Designer @ExamPrep.ai | 10K Designers

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Milanote — Organize your creative ideas.

8 steps to designing accessible experiences that feel good for everyone

DGT Vertical Case: Provenance Story

Don’t be afraid of Colour

Thinking Abundance towards Value Generation

Art & illustration by Janet Bright

How do you map fonts in embrilliance?

PDX Cleaning

The very beginning

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Siddharth Verma

Siddharth Verma

Product Designer @ExamPrep.ai | 10K Designers

More from Medium

UX Case Study: Roster app for big SASS solutions

Engineering a Product from Scratch

Designing for Home IoT — UX Values and Methodology

Case Study: Designing a Residence providing app for feasible tenancy…