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Tempo: Designing a product that demands to not be used

Disclaimer: This article is sponsored by Tempo, but all opinions are my own and not suggested, influenced or edited by anyone at Tempo.

I've been using Tempo for a while as a way to manage my daily email workflow. I don't actually remember where I first heard about it, but as someone who values the principles of minimalism and essentialism, it suits me down to a tee.

Tempo is a minimalist email client, aimed at reducing the amount you pick it up and avoiding the constant barrage of email noise and distraction of modern personal and business life.

Email clients really are a dime a dozen, it's an area of app stores that is ripe with implementation but mostly misses on true differentiation. Whilst it's very easy to find another email client to test out instead of the default one installed on your device, it's very hard to find one that actually offers something different. Tempo, however, is this email client.

As someone in the product design world, I've often been tasked with designing strategies and affordances that encourage product usage. Pulling people in via notifications, including "tasks" for customers to do in order to get them using the app when they might not need to, working with marketing to develop campaigns to encourage upsells. These things are important for business often, but they're at odds with what we as people actually want most of the time.

Tempo, unlike most products, demands to be put down. From its ultra-minimal aesthetic to its approach to email batching, it doesn't want you to open it up and pull to refresh every five minutes.

There's a couple of things about Tempo that I think are super important to its current and future success and some key things I think any brand can learn from them.

1. Batching

Tempo's first unique feature is its approach to informing you about email. Rather than sending you a single notification for every email, you receive, instead, when you set up Tempo (or wish to add additional Batching slots) you define time windows that you want to receive the emails and Tempo holds onto them until that time.

If you ever need to see them before then---such as awaiting that important client brief or the outcome of your potential promotion---you can either peek at them or force a new batch to be delivered. If you don't do this, you'll just receive a single notification to declare that a new batch is ready which will then allow you to see what's waiting for your attention.

This focus on batching helps you to focus on what you do best, designing or developing.

Key takeaway: Spend time thinking about the most important thing you can do for your customer and make that your hallmark feature. Even if it feels at odds with the industry, do it anyway. You can allow overrides where necessary, but don't make them easy.

2. Not being demanding of customer time

Speaking of time, Tempo cares about your time. We all know that async communications often take up lots of our working and personal time. With email, we had our first experience of this, and over time with the introduction of text messages everywhere, Slack, Teams, and more, we have limitless things wanting our limited attention.

Tempo's batching focus allows you to get on with the things that matter most in your day and only care about email when the time comes.

The mobile beta takes this seriously too, limiting the functionality so you're focused on either dealing with the batched email by sorting and replying or pushing emails into 'To Do' for later.

This limited functionality is by design. This speaks to Tempo's mission of making email less distracting and their desire to build with love and design with purpose.

Key takeaway: Think about how much time your customer has and optimise your product to minimise how much of it you ask for. Think about whether you really need to send that push notification.

3. Thinking people-first

There's a lot of tools designed to "make you more productive" but often they don't actually succeed because instead of removing the noise and simplifying things, they bloat out their offering and encourage you to spend more of your time on their product. That demand for your time is against what Tempo believes in and is in fact a direct opposite of what Tempo expects.

You can look to their domain to think about how they feel about you as a customer. is very explicit that it's about being "yours". This subtleness to the domain is a surprisingly important and significant one. It shows how Tempo feels about you as a customer or prospective customer. They want you to feel as though the product is yours and not the other way around. Tempo works for you.

Key takeaway: Be people-first. It's easy to create a product that achieves your goals but trying to do that whilst also understanding about and caring for your customer is hard. Put yourself in their shoes, would you want what your about to do to happen to you?

4. Beautiful but utilitarian design (function over form)

By design, Tempo is intentionally minimal. The interface and affordances are kept stripped and colourless. There's a few minor moments of colour when it feels useful to explain visually what is happening, such as the green toggles to enable or disable accounts or batching per account, or swipe actions or the tiny blue indicator to show an item is new. These moments are kept for items that afford action. This helps it to be really clear on what elements are interactive versus passive.

The default 'compose' window for new emails or replies utilises markdown by default so you can quickly and easily format emails without having to mess around with rich text buttons or cluttered editing experiences.

Other email apps tend to bloat the editing interface with lots of action bars and abilities to format everything under the sun. Whilst this could be useful, it can lead to spending too much time creating the email and less time focusing on what matters most as a designer or developer.

Key takeaway: Your interfaces can be simple, it's okay to not fill them with coloured buttons, illustrations, animations or other decorations. Sometimes the simplicity is what brings the true beauty because it allows your product's functions to be key. As Dieter Rams put it, "Good design is as little design as possible"

5. Building with intentionality

Finally, Tempo's compose view on desktop includes a type length indicator that recommends keeping your message to the length of a tweet. Whilst this isn't always useful or correct for your use case, it helps to remind you to be intentional with your messages.

Whether you're replying or writing a brand new message, this indicator is present. It's another moment that introducers colour when you go over that intentional length. The more you use it, the more you'll get comfortable with shortening your emails and think of them more like text messages when the time is right.

Really though, intentionality sums up the entire product and the ethos of the company. And this is demonstrated end to end within Tempo.

Key takeaway: Intentionality is key. Be intentional with every decision you make from design of the interface, to the stack you're building with, to the customer journeys you focus on and the way you solve your customers' problems. All of this needs to be intentional from the outset. Your product and your customers will benefit in the long run.

I couldn't recommend it enough, and if you want to give it try, you can sign up via my link to get a 30-day free trial. After that, it's €10 a month, and it's totally worth it. The time saved alone makes you more than €10 a month more productive with your time. And, if you're like me, you'll feel nothing but more relaxed, and more productive.

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