Planning a social networking site with a private messaging system, including following folders:

  • inbox
  • sentbox
  • drafts
  • trash

and labels that can be created, managed by the users and applied in a n:n way (1 message can have multiple labels, one label can be applied to multiple messages), basically like in Gmail.

My Questions are:

  • when showing the messages in inbox, you see the information from the user who sent it to you, in the sentbox I thought of showing the information to whom the message was sent. Is this a good idea?

  • the question resulting in that is, that if you can delete messages from the inbox as well as from the sentbox, you will not be able to distinguish them, unless you mark them with a big "SENT" and "INBOX" and "TRASH" label. Email clients and programs handle this in different ways, some always show the user who sent the message (if this was you, then it always shows you and you don't see on the first sight to whom you have sent it), others do it the other way round.

What is your opinion - what is better and less confusing for the user?

And: what would you think if I only let users put messages from the inbox into trash and all other messages would get delted permanently (of course you communicate this to the users in modal dialog boxes)?

  • 1
    "basically like in Gmail" = if you're emulating a known system, I'd stick to just copying what that know system already does.
    – DA01
    Aug 2, 2012 at 16:44
  • @DA01: yeah, thank you for this tip. However, 'basically like in Gmail' is actually only true for the label-system. The rest is just a simple PM system... so it should be much simpler as it has by far not the functionality of Gmail, just the functions I described in the question...
    – Chris
    Aug 2, 2012 at 16:53

2 Answers 2


I'm not sure I understand the problem about deletion, but it seems to me that the message metadata shown to the user only needs to differ based on what the user already knows. Thus, if you click "Inbox," you know all of these messages were sent to you from somebody, so seeing who it's from is the new and useful information. If you click "Sent," you know all the messages were sent by you to somebody, so seeing the recipient is the new and useful information. To summarize, the Inbox shows the sender, Sent shows the recipient(s).

I would let users put Sent and Draft messages in the trash. The purpose of trash is to allow the user a second chance to retrieve what they previously threw away. Sometimes you send an email with an attachment that you realize you want to download yourself later (for instance, I send a picture of my honeymoon to Mom, but then my hard drive fails and I lose the photo. I go into my trash folder and find the picture I sent to Mom and download it).

  • thx Evan, good feedback! :) So, just one question: how would you handle the messages in the trash folder? What metadata would you show? Because then some messages in trash are sent messages or drafts (so show who you sent the message to) whereas others are messages from inbox, so show information from who sent the message to you... how to best avoid that it gets confusing here?
    – Chris
    Aug 2, 2012 at 20:11
  • 1
    I'm a little late responding to this... but in the Trash you can just show the subject (and whether or not there are any attachments) and that should be enough. In my opinion. MS Outlook works that way. If you want to show sender or recipient, show sender; you delete stuff from other people more often than you delete stuff from yourself.
    – Evan
    Sep 10, 2012 at 14:46

Well, spam is actually a label in gmail, and you remove something from spam by removing the spam label, I guess it might work with trash as well.

BTW, gmail uses the notion of conversations, it doesn't handle individual mails only.

Draft deletion is permanent at GMail, although the action is differently named (discard). If you think of it, a "draft" folder is a specialized "trash" for unsent messages, in a way that it helps the user to cancel a permanent action, no need for two-layered undo here.

Question is, why a sent mail can't be deleted if inbox mails can be? It's pretty fine to have such a simple interface rule:

If sender == me:
else if recipients.includes(me) and NumberOf(recipients) == 1:

But then, how to denote explicitly, that I'm the only recipient? How to explain to the user why it shows up if there are more of them?

Hiding the sender is fine as long as I can't have multiple identities, and this rule can be applied with any label or folder, including inbox and trash. (well, inbox not necessarily,I mean, what if I send a mail to myself?)

In an inbox view, a sender is always vital, even if it was the user her/himself, in a sent mail view it isn't, but in a trashed sent mail, or in a labeled conversation, it can be again vital.

So, I guess it's rather

If view.label == "Sent" and mail.sender == me:

Design the screens on paper, list the user goals, list the user methods, define which information is needed for which method / use case / user story / feature / scenario / action / whatever.

  • Thanks Aadaam, I was not aware that drafts don't go to trash when deleted in GMail. It is not being communicated very clearly that the delete is permanent, IMO. It is not the point here on ux, but just to mention that it is by far not such a simple rule to handle the messages (group by threads/conversations, support multiple recipients, if one message in a thread is new the whole thread appears new (like in Gmail), whole threads and/or part of threads (some messages) can be deleted whereas other parts aren't (then again true for sent messages as well as received messages) etc. - just to say
    – Chris
    Aug 4, 2012 at 5:39

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