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My web application has an email client.

I am trying to figure out the best way to present the list of emails to the user...pagination like gmail, or infinite scroll like outlook, or is there a better way?

Personally I hate google's pagination and it discourages me from looking back at emails too much. Where as with outlook, I do often go back several months.

Possibly some other way of navigating history, such as by date?

EDIT

I'm thinking of some variation on paging where the user can navigate instead of by page, but by a time period...

6 Months Ago | 3 Months Ago | Last Year | January | February | March | April

Something like that...

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I'm biased towards no pagination because it forces cognitive breaks in the user's workflow.

But that is a bias and not an answer. I think the right choice here depends on a number of factors so on way to do this is to build a scorecard along the lines of:

User considerations

  • Does the user's workflow feel naturally paginated (eg a page metaphor is actually useful because it gives users a cognitive pause after a page full of information?)
  • Are users likely to click or process one email at a time so there are natural breaks from the scanning flow (versus scanning rapidly through email titles)?
  • Are users likely to need random access to email pages (Ie I want to go straight to page 5)
  • Are users likely to reload a page halfway through scanning?

Technical considerations

  • Are the email headers content-heavy so that they would be quite slow to load via Ajax in an infinite scroll?
  • Is the user likely to have sporadic Internet access (eg walking about on a cellphone) so that Ajax loads could be unreliable if the user breaks a connection?

If you answer yes to most of the questions, pagination may be a better solution. If most of the answers are no, then infinite scroll may be more suitable.

You can extend the list with other factors but this hopefully useful enough as an approach that you can tailor it to suit your own situation, since there is no single answer for one vs the other here.

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Sounds like pagination/infinite scrolling are the default way of how to do it and do not confuse people and give them something familiar. Then add someting handy on the top of it, that speeds up the regular tasks/behavior of them. Here it will depend in which situation the email client is used. Eg. behavior can be different when dealing with personal and work mail, which device is the most preferred...

When thinking about where to inspire for UI and principles:

  • some dataviz tools?
  • apps for storing notes, images and links?
  • navigating ebooks in Kindle?
  • Thought on Google: Maybe their search and junk filtering is so good for the primary persona for Gmail that they don't need to invest into tuning pagination. – digsrafik Mar 28 '15 at 9:31
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Infinite scroll has the advantage of less controls (buttons) for the user to interact with, and thus less cognitive load on the user in general.

Pagination has the advantage of additional navigation ("jump to") options if the user will be searching through the list. That is, the user can quickly jump to the oldest X% of emails through paginiation.

In order to determine the correct answer, you would need to identify your users and their expected use of the product. Will they be searching through the emails by date, or primary just scrolling through?

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Break the problem into a number of functional areas

  1. Sending email (writing and responding and notification)
  2. Recieving email. Notifying email 3 managing email (reading, deleting, archiving etc) email archives. Here we are storing for later use. Searching/finding/sorting/grouping

Your issue depends on 1. Quantity and age of email and the different number of email correspondants

So sorting by date, content or content type, correspondents and the main ways users seach the email

You can use scrolling, pagation, tabs and sliders Also creating an advanced search would allow users to handle the email

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