MINDSENSE

How we communicate internally

in Work Smarter

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Because we build email clients, many people assume that all of our internal communication is funneled through email. While we do use Mail Pilot for some of our internal communication, we currently use a variety of tools and constantly search for new applications to communicate digitally.

Communication is crucial for our small, busy team. Alex and I work full-time, normally from our office in Blacksburg, VA. Nathan, our customer support manager works remotely from Orlando, FL. We consistently have part-time independent contractors and student interns who always utilize a high percentage of remote working.

HipChat

HipChat is described as “Group chat and IM built for teams”; that’s exactly how and why we use it as our most common form of digital communication. HipChat is our method of communicating more informally and instantly. Quick questions, sharing a success story, posting a relevant news article, and short status updates most commonly flow through HipChat. We have multiple rooms set up and it’s incredibly useful to know who is in each room at any given time. Even when we’re communicating with others across the office, HipChat provides a means of communicating without disrupting someone’s train of thought.

Email

We use Mail Pilot for more formal communication like sending and discussing important documents or sharing an in-depth thought or idea. A high percentage of our emails involve simply forwarding external communication to one another with internal commentary. We make a point not to use email for anything that requires a quick or instant response as we know HipChat is a more efficient means of conducting that correspondence.

While we often use email for more formal communication, we’ve also evolved a unique way of pulling the unnecessary formalities to get to the point more quickly. Our messages to one another stylistically resemble an internal memo rather than a business letter. We also pay specific attention to utilizing concise, descriptive subject lines to further streamline our communication.

Pivotal Tracker

While our implementation of agile methodology deserves it’s own blog post, the main reason that we use it as such a small team is because it’s more than just a method of working – it’s a process of communicating. To facilitate this process digitally, we use Pivotal Tracker. This application has grown to more than a manager of our sprints; it’s become a tool we use to communicate about tasks, projects, and stories. In our use of Pivotal Tracker, we’ve noticed a dramatic decrease in the number of distracting questions/conversations such as “What are you working on?” or “Are we going to add this feature?” because we all have access to this information in real time. This is especially helpful for customer support; Nathan can quickly and easily inform customers what features can be expected in an upcoming release or are in active development. This is the kind of openness we strive to have with our customers.

Basecamp

Collaboration is a major form of communicating. Our Basecamp “Projects” aren’t traditional projects in that they don’t have a start and end point. Rather they’re categories (such as products, themes, etc.) of collaboration. I didn’t fully realize this until writing this post, but we mainly us Basecamp as a method of record keeping. For example, we track our most frequent feature requests as To-Do items. This enables us to document, reorder, discuss, and complete them when we get to them. We also keep track of news and blog posts regarding Mail Pilot and document some of our favorite tweets in one of our projects. In all, we use Basecamp for communication that doesn’t require response or attention in the immediate future. We all know that these items exist in Basecamp and can update them when we think of it and reference them when necessary.

GitHub

Both developers and non developers at Mindsense utilize GitHub’s Wiki and Issues communication tools. While the general topic of all communication in GitHub is development, it is not limited to technical communication. For example, rather than a more traditional shared spreadsheet for all of our test email accounts, we have a Wiki for this information. Because we track confirmed bugs in Pivotal Tracker, we use GitHub Issues to document, track, and discuss problems before we determine what bug is the root cause. In addition, we track and discuss smaller level improvements via Issues. By handling the actual tracking of confirmed bugs in a separate area, it’s much less scary for anyone on the team to add and discuss a problem in GitHub without wasting time wondering if it’s worthy of creating a report.

Phone

I know what you’re thinking. It seems archaic and bizarre to think of the phone as being a main communication tool in a startup, especially one whose flagship product is a digital communication application. However, there are some instances in which a phone call is incredibly beneficial. Most notably, I communicate with Nathan about customer support several times a week via phone. Whether we’re working through a technically complex support ticket, discussing ways to address common questions, or planning a new aspect of our online support portal, I prefer to have these conversations over the phone. With customer support, I’ve learned that the context of each situation is incredibly important, and a quick instant message or email can’t provide as much context as a phone discussion.

Mail Pilot for Mac 1.1

in Updates

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We’ve been hard at work on a major update to Mail Pilot for Mac. We just completed development, and the update is in private beta testing prior to submission to the Mac App Store in the next couple of weeks. Since our launch, we’ve enjoyed reading all of your feedback and requests. Our team has focused this update on the most frequently requested features and improvements. To create a balanced update, we incorporated several major features, a handful of overall improvements, and a slew of fixes.

Drafts & Sending

The headline feature of Mail Pilot for Mac 1.1 is full drafts support. Despite the six letter title, this feature took quite some time to develop fully and intuitively. Drafts works seamlessly and automatically to take the worry out of composing replies and new messages. As you’re typing, Mail Pilot automatically saves your content periodically to Mail Pilot Drafts. Drafts of replies are automatically saved into the thread that they’re part of, and you can easily see which threads contain drafts with a new message list draft icon.

With drafts support comes a much smoother and faster sending process. Now, as soon as you press the send button, the compose or reply window immediately goes away and the message is funneled through Mail Pilot’s new Outbox functionality. Previously, Mail Pilot waited until it received confirmation from the server that the message sent because it didn’t have a draft saved in case something went wrong. Now, sending is instantaneous on the interface level.

Improved Search

Searching in Mail Pilot for Mac 1.1 is dramatically improved. We focused on improving both efficiency and speed, and the difference is noticeable. You’ll notice suggestions and results appear more quickly with increased stability. This update also includes two new search features. Now, you can search message body content in addition to message header content. To make searching more productive, we added intuitive search tokens. Simple terms such as “From:”, “To:”, “With:”, “Subject:”, and “All:” can be added to the beginning of any search to customize the results for the content you’re trying to locate.

Improved Search

Using the new “with:” token, Mail Pilot will search for threads with “virginia” in the sender or recipient fields. Selecting “Search all content…” would search all header and body content for the word “virginia”

Openness to Applications

Another major set of features focuses on making Mail Pilot more open to other applications and your operating system. Now, you can drag a message item from Mail Pilot into any other application that will accept an electronic mail (.eml) file. So, if you need to save a local copy of a message or add a message to another application, it’s as simple as a drag and drop. If dragging and dropping isn’t for you, there’s a menu item under the Message menu. This “See original message” button allows you to easily see the original full content of the message as it was sent from the server or save a copy of the message as a text (.txt) file.

Visual

Based on your feedback, we’ve incorporated a few visual improvements. You’ll notice a redesigned Source List with icons that are much more fitting with the rest of the application. The send and formatting bar in the message view now sticks to the bottom of your window so you never lose sight of all the functionality contained in this bar. Perhaps the most impactful visual improvement is hidden quoted replies. Now, if another email client quotes an entire message chain, it won’t clog up the threading in Mail Pilot.

More

In addition to these major features and improvements, you’ll notice dozens of other fixes and improvements. You can view a full change log here with more than 30 noteworthy changes. This is just the first of many forthcoming updates. Soon, we’ll be launching a status board to keep you better informed about the progress of upcoming updates and releases. As always, you can request a feature or improvement here – a real human reads, logs, and evaluates each and every request that we receive.

Designing our new blog

in Design

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Over the last few months, it has become painfully clear how much our blog needed a facelift. For the last week, I have designed and developed our new blog. I made some intentional decisions during the design process, which I will elaborate on here.

The design we were using before we whipped up in a matter of hours. It was a sort of after-thought that went along with a redesign of the Mail Pilot microsite. It put a large emphasis on the first image of a post and a post’s headline. This design worked best for announcements, so that’s all we posted: our email announcements, slapped into the blog.

Besides the fact that that’s not what a blog is for, nor is it its best use case for a company, it showed its cracks with the design rather quickly. Graphics designed for our emails were confusing when used in our blog. Since graphics for emails have headlines in them, you end up with two headlines when you reuse the images for a blog post. This is cluttered and confusing.

Graphics designed for our emails were confusing when used in our blog. Since graphics in emails typically have headlines, reusing them in our blog meant each post appeared with two headlines. This was cluttered and confusing.

Graphics designed for our emails were confusing when used in our blog. Since graphics in emails typically have headlines, reusing them in our blog meant each post appeared with two headlines. This was cluttered and confusing.

The blog had a “flat” feel with a white background. This caused an unforeseen issue that emerged shortly after we posted the design. Our Mac app started taking up many of the posts, screenshots included. Our Mac app’s interface also has a white background, so any clipped screenshot became visually confusing.

The white background of the blog and the white background of the Mac app caused screenshots to become visually confusing. We posted the design a few weeks before we started posting screenshot of the Mac app. We didn't see the problem coming, but we noticed it quickly.

The white background of the blog and the white background of the Mac app caused screenshots to become visually confusing. We posted the design a few weeks before we started posting screenshot of the Mac app.

With these big white images, you could never tell when an image was part of an article, or starting a new one. That was a major design flaw.

A new design

With the old design, it was hard to tell what was where and why. I worked to address these issues when designing our new blog. I also wanted to craft a design that would inspire us to post more than just announcements (starting with this post about design!).

Clarity was the primary goal. Readers should be able to quickly differentiate article content from other content, and from other articles. The first solution is article text is in a serif typeface, while all other elements (captions, navigation, etc.) are in a sans-serif typeface.

The grey background behind an article helps emphasize and contain it. It draws your eyes in. And it helps show what is inside the article versus what is not.

The headline is not in the grey box, for stylistic reasons. Though since it is not in the grey box, the sidebar must appear below the top of the grey box, otherwise it commands as much attention as the headline. By moving the top of the sidebar to be just below the top of the article, your eyes can correctly flow from the headline to the article, and then sidebar.

Two earlier designs (left) next to the final design (right). While I thought the headline looked better outside of the grey article box, the side bar had to be moved below the top of the article box so that the readers eyes don't move from the headline to the sidebar, but rather from the headline to the article, then to the sidebar.

Two earlier designs (left) next to the final design (right). While I thought the headline looked better outside of the grey article box, the side bar had to be moved below the top of the article box so that the readers eyes don’t move from the headline to the sidebar, but rather from the headline to the article, then to the sidebar.

Images are bordered and captioned. They are wider than the text of the article, but still bounded by the article’s box. By making them wider, it (ironically) makes it visually clear that this image is a part of this article, flowing form top to bottom. On our previous design, an all white background where the text and images were the same width made it unclear if an image was associated with the text above or below, or if it started a new article altogether. The image’s borders and captions also help make this clear. Further, it is clear when a new article begins because of the article box, and because images that start an article are the only ones to take up the full width of the box.

The sidebar allows us to move any actionable items out of the articles. This way, the article can be just an article, and not a spam-like piece of marketing. It also allows us to ensure actionable items are always up-to-date. If someone lands on an old article, it may have an old link. Now that these items will be in the sidebar, they will always reflect the most up-to-date actionable items.

While developing this theme in WordPress, I made it enforce a few guidelines. It only allows for one level of sub-header in an article’s body, which will keep us from writing anything too complex. The goal is to tell stories; to tell our readers what’s going on here in Blacksburg. That should not need many levels of sub-headers.

Videos can be use instead of featured images to begin posts, which are also shown full-width (and are responsive; not a terribly easy trick). We will rule out having text in the featured images to avoid the ‘double headline’ issue. If a featured graphic has to appear with text, the text will appear in a sans-serif font, and to the left or right of other elements in the graphic (not above or below). This way, the text will be visually distinct from the article headline and content.

Left: A featured image with text above the graphic is visually confusing. Middle: A featured image with text to the side of a graphic in a sans-serif typeface is less confusing, and occasionally acceptable. Right: A featured image without any text is best.

Left: A featured image with text above the graphic is visually confusing. Middle: A featured image with text to the side of a graphic in a sans-serif typeface is less confusing, and occasionally acceptable. Right: A featured image without any text is best.

I developed the theme on top of Bootstrap. This helped me make it responsive with minimal effort. The theme also generates social sharing links for each post, showing them under articles. Finally, I hooked all the features of the design in to the WordPress post editor and admin pages. This allows us to take advantage of the design’s elements without having to memorize a ton of short codes.

I hope you enjoy our new blog design as much as I enjoyed creating it. It clears up a lot of the visual confusion that came with the old design. And I hope it encourages us to write posts like this one more often. Until next time.

Mail Pilot has landed on the Mac App Store

in Announcements

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Mail Pilot has officially landed on the Mac App Store℠ with limited time introductory pricing. After months of beta testing with nearly 30,000 users, our testers have made it clear that this task-oriented email app is the future of email on the Mac.

Complete Your Messages

When you’re done with a message, simply change its status from Incomplete to Complete, just like a to-do list. Gone are the days of tricking your email client by marking as unread. Quickly check off messages that don’t require any action after reading them, and keep track of messages that still have outstanding tasks.

Complete your messages in Mail Pilot just like a to-do list.

Complete your messages in Mail Pilot just like a to-do list.

Set Reminders for Messages

Set a reminder for a message and Mail Pilot will prompt you when it’s time to deal with it. Free your inbox of messages you can’t yet tackle, and be reminded when deliveries are arriving, bills are due, meetings are coming up, and other due dates are approaching.

Reminders help you keep track of bills, deliveries, meetings, and other due dates by pushing a message to the top of your inbox on the day you set. The message is removed from your inbox until then to reduce clutter.

Reminders help you keep track of bills, deliveries, meetings, and other due dates by pushing a message to the top of your inbox on the day you set. The message is removed from your inbox until then to reduce clutter.

Organize Your Way

Become better organized with the flexibility to craft your own productive workflow. Organize based on message status as Incomplete, Complete or set for Reminder. Collect groups of related messages across all of your accounts using Lists. Folders and labels can be accessed and utilized anytime. Set Aside for Later Easily achieve Inbox Zero. Set Aside messages that can’t be organized immediately and drill through them when you have more time.

Simply Compatible with Your Email Accounts

All standard IMAP accounts are compatible, including Gmail, iCloud, Yahoo!, AOL, Rackspace, Outlook.com, and Google Apps. Mail Pilot remains securely synchronized with your email servers and other clients.

Secure & Private

Mail Pilot never stores, processes, or transmits your data through third-party servers. Your account details, passwords, and personal data are securely stored on your device. All communication occurs directly between your device and your email server.

Mail Pilot for Mac free Public Preview

in Announcements

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After months of development and an extended private beta, we just can’t wait any longer. Today, we’re announcing a free Public Preview of Mail Pilot for Mac.

When we officially announced Mail Pilot for Mac in June, we opened beta sign-ups to the public. We were incredible excited by the response to this—receiving more than 10x the sign-ups we initially anticipated. This wasn’t a marketing gimmick; our goal was to devote significant time to wide, public testing to ensure quality and enable us to build an application that our users loved.

In October, we began our beta testing. To streamline the process and allow plenty of time to interact with our beta users, we issued invitations in batches of increasing size. Our initial focus was on stability, efficiency, and performance. Once we had a solid, tested foundation, we turned to adding features and improvements.

Today, we’re ecstatic to announce a free Public Preview of Mail Pilot for Mac. The application is still under very active development, and there are still a few loose ends hanging around, but our beta testers agree that Mail Pilot for Mac is ready for public, everyday use.

This is a big deal for us. We’ve never offered any of our applications free to the public. However, we’re so excited about Mail Pilot for Mac that we can’t wait any longer for everyone to experience the future of desktop email.

The Public Preview will begin Thursday, December 5. To ensure that we can read & utilize all the feedback from Public Preview users as we put the finishing touches on the application, we’ll be batching access in groups of sign-up time. Sign-ups are now open!