The Challenge

Design the future of email

Email has grown substantially since its introduction in the 1970s, becoming one of the dominant communication mediums. However, this growth has resulted in email changing significantly. It’s original purpose was to provide a simple asynchronous communication mechanism to its users. But, as adoption increased, other features have been shoehorned into it. Functions such as to-do lists, archiving of both conversations and documents, and scheduling have found their way into email. Email is inherently bad at these and other tasks, but it continues to be used for them.

In 1996 Whittaker and Sinder identified the overloading of email’s features to include task management and personal archiving alongside its original communication goal. This ever-changing information management aspect of email was reiterated by Bellotti et al. (2003), while investigating a means to lessen the ‘pain of email’ for task management.

By 2006 email had evolved further, identified by Whittaker, Bellotti and Gwizda as being people’s main interface for asynchronous communication, task management, personal archiving and now contact management. Email had become a person’s unifying application—the core application in their digital information management.

All of this research points towards the fact that email is slowly, but constantly, changing, becoming far more than it was ever intended. Alongside this change are the problems users experience when a system is forced to handle something it was never designed for.

There have been many attempts to ‘fix’ email, but to date they have only been met with at best, partial success. Andrew McAffee’s ‘9x email problem’ states that a replacement to email needs to be effectively 10 times better than current email systems in order for it to be adopted. Dmitri Leonov takes this one step further and argues that, because individual workflows place different emphases on the required extraneous features to what may be the ‘perfect email experience’ for one person, this may not be for another.

Your task is to design an email ‘replacement’. Look at how email is used—what tasks do people perform using email? Does email need a wholesale replacement, or would it be better to leave tasks such as correspondence to email, while creating supplementary services for tasks best suited to a new system? Consider how these systems will interoperate, how people will use them, and how and when they will need to access them.

Where to start

Start by understanding the problem space, read the following online articles, at least read the high points in the academic articles.
Online references:

Academic references:

Now have a bit of a dig through the literature to see if you can find anything interesting. Once you’ve done that start brainstorming. Work with your team, come up with, and work through your ideas. Also please tweet @ozchi24 or email if you need help.


1. Paper

To describe your project you are asked to write a brief (2 page) paper in academic style and using the OzCHI paper template, explaining concept, design process, and response. You are strongly encouraged to include research references and other relevant links in the paper, as well as links to other relevant journal entries. The paper will carry more weight this year when compared with previous years. That said, don’t panic! It’s shorter than it sounds, and we will be providing you with examples and instructions on how to do it. We understand that it’s a 24-hour challenge, and that will be taken into consideration 🙂

2. Online journal

To demonstrate your design process you are required to keep an online journal in form of a team blog. Use the journal to record any major stages for your design, such as user research, prototyping, etc. We don’t expect you to share any ideas or results before the end of the 24-hour challenge, but what we want to be able to follow is the methodology you used to come up with your final design. Make sure we have the link to your online journal, by emailing it along with your team name to or filling out this survey. Include the names of all team members somewhere on your online journal. In your Paper’s references section include a link to your blog.

3. Video

To demonstrate your solution you are asked to submit a video. This can be either a video prototype or a concept video. Anything from animation through screen capture to acting is valid. Note that this means that you don’t necessarily have to implement the system. The video should not be longer than 3 minutes. Include at least a title and your team name somewhere in the video. In your Paper’s references section include a link to your video submission.

4. Mini-challenges

We will be running a series of mini-challenges that are designed to give you some direction and help you reach your milestones. While completing them will help you create your video and paper, they will not have a direct impact on your final assessment. They will be announced throughout the course of the challenge.

How to submit.

Easychair gogo. Remember to include references to your blog and video in your paper!

Submissions will be open until Sunday 22 September 2013, 10am (AEST).

This is what we’ll look out for

Your submission will be assessed by our panel of judges according to the following criteria:

  • Quality of design process and use of interaction design methods and theory
  • Design quality, innovation, and originality of your response to the challenge
  • Considerations into user experience and user interaction
  • Quality, visual style, clarity, and depth of the submission (video and paper)

Prizes and awards that we’re giving out

The judging panel consists of a group of reviewers (see below) who will select three finalists from all submissions to the 24-hour online challenge. Each finalists team will receive 1 free access pass to the OzCHI conference in Adelaide (valued at AUD 385.00), which includes three days of keynote talks, conference sessions, welcome reception and conference dinner.

The finalist teams will be invited to present their work in a special session at the conference. We will support remote video presentations (e.g. via Skype) if you can’t make it to Adelaide. However in this case your team won’t be able to claim the conference access pass.

The winning team will be selected at the conference based on their presentations at a dedicated conference session and announced during the closing ceremony on the last day of the conference. The winning teams will receive prizes (for 1st and 2nd place) and certificates of recognition (for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place).

Up to 10 submissions will be featured with their 2-page paper in the OzCHI conference catalogue! Those teams whose papers are selected may be asked to make corrections in their paper in order to reach the ‘camera ready’ state.

Talk about your progress

Apart from the submission requirements mentioned above, we love to see as much ‘behind the scenes’ coverage as possible—use your design blog to tell us about your process as well as Google+, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, etc to cover every aspect of your design journey. Please use ozchi24 for tagging any challenge-related posts.

Meet some of our judges

  • Paris Buttfield-Addison: Founder at Secret Lab, author of several O’Reilly Media books, #ozchi24 veteran and winner of the challenge in 2009 (online) and 2010 (on-site).
  • Lone Koefoed Hansen: Associate Professor in arts, culture & digital stuff at Aarhus University
  • Henrik Kosgaard: Winner of the #ozchi24 challenge in 2010 (online) and currently PhD fellow in Computer Science / Participatory IT at Aarhus University
  • Christopher Lueg: Professor in HCI at University of Tasmania
  • And many more…

If you get stuck

You can post questions via twitter @ozchi24 or email We will provide support throughout the 24 hours of the challenge.

The fine print

By participating in the OzCHI student design challenge, you agree to the publication of your entry (video and online journal) on the challenge website ( and the conference website ( You further grant us the rights to include parts from your video, blog, paper, etc., in a video documentation about the challenge, sponsorship prospectus and other such material. Any material we publish will be fully referenced and your team will retain the copyrights. To receive the free access pass to the OzCHI conference you will need to provide proof of your student status at the time the challenge took place.