Design Review: Lotus Notes 8 vs. MS Outlook 2007

Design Review: Lotus Notes 8 versus Outlook 2007

Recently our office started upgrading some employees to Lotus 8 and I decided to give it a try. Before I get started, let me give you a little information on my email experience. I started using email in the mid 90’s with Hotmail, moving at somepoint after 2000 to Outlook which I have used religously since. Sure, I still have my Hotmail account, as well as Yahoo Mail, and Gmail. But rather than fanagle with multiple interfaces and logins everthing conveniently is pushed to my home computer and appears nicely integrated into a single inbox in my Outlook.

So you can imagine I was less than excited when I found out I was going to be forced to use an email application aside from my beloved Outlook. I admit that at first with Notes 7, I resisted and cheated. I used a connector at work that would allow me to continue receiving my email via the outlook interface eventhough the company used Lotus Notes. (For those interested here is a link to the connector, you must have domino 7 and outlook 2003).

So how is it I’m writing an article about Lotus 8 you may ask? I have to say it is sheer curiousity as a person who designs applications for a living. I attended CHI 2009 and went to a presentation by IBM explaning all of the user experience research methods they employeed when updating there system from version 7 to 8, and the presentation impressed me enough to make me decide it’s worth a test drive.

So here are my initial thoughts when comparing Lotus Notes 8 against my beloved Outlook 2007.


The first thing I notice, and my biggest pet peve in Notes is its lack of chunking in the email view. In Outlook you can choose to group your emails by many different paramaters including date. When grouped your emails appears visually chunked making it much eaiser to scan then a repetitive list with no visual breaks.



Visual Attention Indicators

Visual indicators are anoter useful way to identify and prioritize emails visually. Both programs allow you to do this, but in very different ways.

Notes allows you to change the apperance of the background and text color of emails based on the person or group that sent them to you. I can tag any sender, such as my bank as a specific color, then anytime I receive an email from them it is visually displayed seperatly from the rest of my emails as soon as it enters my inbox.

This would be nice, except it seems to me that not matter what color scheme I come up with theses emails always appear more important as they are more visually prominent against unstyled emails. While I like to categorize and organize my emails, not all emails I receive from my bank are important, therefore it would be nice if I could choose which ones to apply the style to.

Outlook also gives you the abililty to visually organize emails with their categorization tool. This provides you with the ability to create 25 different colored categories which you can appy to any email in your inbox regardless of the sender. You can also apply more than one category as the color indicator appears as a colored box to the right of the email. I like this as it is easy to scan the right side and see all my visual colors, but when simply reading down the left side of my emails, they all appear in the same in black and white.




Another thing I like about outlooks visual indicators is that they are consistent across the application. When I am in my calendar I can categorize an appointment and it will change to the color I have chosen in my preset categories list. The same list used for emails.

However, in Notes, it auto colors my calendar items based on whether the item is something I created, a task I added or an invitation from someone else. I do have the abililty to change the colors, but there is no way to relate them to my email colors.

Another inconsistency I have noticed in in Notes is that the skin of their modal windows in no way matches the new rounded iconic feel of the rest of the application.



Human Error

Something I do rather often while I’m rushing through my emails is delete one on accident. Thankfully in Outlook a simple CTRL+Z or Edit>Undo Delete will bring my last delete email right back where it was.

In Notes, if you delete an email on accident you have to go to the Trash, click on the email, and then click a Restore button. They will not even let you drag and drop back into the Inbox.

Inturruption Standards

Both Notes and Outlook provide you with reminders for notes and calendar appointments with a popup window to alert you when the desired time is approaching. Outlook acts the way I would expect any popup to act, I can inteact with it, then close it and go back to what I was doing.

Notes on the other hand also allows you to interact with the popup, except when you interact with it instead of standing alone as a popup, it brings the Notes aplication to the front of any open applications and puts a focus on it. This is especially annoying if I’m trying to demonstrate something on my computer, and dismiss a reminder. The act of dismissing it causes my email to become the primary application which I then need to re-minimize to go back to what I was doing.



Real-World Model

In the real physical world, if you wanted to add an appointement to your paper desk calendar, you would simply get out a pen or pencil choose a date and start writing. It is important to keep models like this intact when moving to interactive interfaces. In Outlook, I can click once on a calendar day to choose it then simply start typing and an event will be added.

In Notes I was surprised to find that when I clicked on the calendar then started typing, a window opened labeled Search Text with the text I had typed. So clicking on a time and typing in this application indicates that you want to search the calendar. To add an appointment, you must instead click on the New button and then choose a date and time in form format.

This type of click in context also bothers me in the way you flag emails in Notes. To do a Quick Flag, you must select an email and then click the flag icon at the top of the screen. While simple, it’s not quite simple enough and certiantly not in context. In outlook, I can simply click where the flag icon would appear on an email, and it appears. Now I consider that to be a “Qucik Flag”.


RSS readers and Messengers are a popular form of social communication that have risen over the past few years. Both applications allow me to add feeds however they both present them very differently. I can’t say I necessarily prefer one over the other as I think both could use some work.

If I had to choose I would pick Notes for their Feeds display. Feeds are shown in a panel to the right of the application, and can be grouped or shown as a list with unread posts bold. For any post you can click to see a preview, or double click to open the full article in your web browser. You can also choose to open the panel as its own window.

In Outlook the feeds are basically treated the same as emails.  They appear in their own folders, and you can view a preview in the preview pane or by double clicking the email. Then you can open the post by clicking the link with in the preview.

Notes also comes with Sametime Messenger which is now completely integrated (it used to be a separate application). It is nice to have the messenger within the mail window, except I don’t like that when I close my email it also closes my chat.

Outlook has a very similar messenging system called Office Communicator. The two are pretty comparable and both allow you to see which co-workers are online, or choose to chat with them right from my email view.  However Outlook has taken it one step further by also allowing integration with MSN Messenger and Windows Live Messenger.


In summary, and especially for those familiar with Notes 7, Notes 8 has come a long way. It’s come far enough that I’m now willing to use it at work, instead of fiddeling with the outlook connector. However, Outlook definitly feels more intuitive to me, and I find it much more efficient to use.