Design Challenge: Slack Lightning

Slack Lightning is a prototype extension of the communication application, Slack, that allows for users to communicate with one another without interrupting workflow. Rather than open up the full desktop app to reply to quick questions, Lightning allows for users to reply to questions without leaving their current screen by utilizing the menu bar and notification widgets.

This project was completed within the span of four days as a design exercise.

Product Design / Design Sprint

Design Challenge
Challenge Timeline: Four days

Identify one opportunity in the design workflow that could be better.

Take a high-level view of the process and see what could really use improvement - maybe something takes tons of manual labor, is duplicated later in the process, or just isn’t fun.

You might consider how designers handoff work to engineers, how they understand which assets are already in production, or even just where to start if you were just designing a simple feature in a production app.

Pinpointing a Problem

This challenge is incredibly broad in scope, and could be solved in a variety of ways. I first quickly identified a general product design flow, then began to ideate potential hypothetical tooling.

Qualitative Research: Professional Insight

After getting a general feeling of the challenge and quickly iterating on some ideas, I reached out to designers that actively practice inside the industry for issues or inefficiencies in the design workflow.

John Caserta
"There is always a lot of back and forth and pointing out issues between developers and designers. Some of it I would consider ‘normal’ (not anticipating issues, things coming up that were unplanned). There is always a difficulty of translation from prototype of working site. The constant communication back and forth between teams can get tiresome."

Associate Professor in the GD Department at RISD

Kirthank Manivannan
"The main pain points I experienced during my time at Microsoft were mainly communication and understanding. Also the handoff would always lead to questions and me sitting next to the developers helping them work through the design, like for example I would make the UI, do a markup and documentation, and then give it to a developer. No matter how well or efficiently I made the documentation, the devs always had questions, and I didn't always have the time to hover over them and guide the code.""

Foundry Designer Intern at Microsoft

In my personal experience, consistent communication between team members is very important for the success of a project. However, it can sometimes be very distracting and pull me away from high-priority work for issues that are more urgent but of lesser importance.

For this design challenge, with such a narrow turnaround time to develop a meaningful solution, I decided to focus on aiding the communication flow between teams and individuals.

By trying to mitigate collaborative communication inefficiencies, I'm effectively tooling for the bigger picture as this could potential lead to more productive, satisfied, and efficient teams.

The Problem

In a fast-paced work environment, individuals must react to questions quickly, but current systems of communication require a full shift in attention and application. The current model for professional communication doesn’t allow for long, sustained periods of focused work.

By completely shifting attention respond to notifications, professionals are pulled from their workflow repeatedly throughout the day.

Consistent communication back and forth is necessary for the success of projects, but the current models in place make it frustrating to deal with as they require a substantial amount of bandwidth, and don’t allow for more lightweight and agile communication.


By providing a way for users to quickly communicate with each other without having to be fully forcibly immersed by another experience, teams can move faster and more efficiently together with better communication.

Slack Lightning:
Prototype Solution
A desktop toolbar extension of the Slack Desktop Application that allows users to communicate with each other directly, utilizing the desktop menu bar and notification widgets.

Slack Lightning:
Guiding Principles of Development

The limitation of four days for this design challenge really compressed my timeline, and given such a broad assignment to explore, it was hard at first to narrow my research to focus in on a single topic. Through prioritization and execution, I managed to identify, plan, and design a viable solution to the challenge, given the very tight time constraints.

Keep it Simple
Slack itself is already a fantastic communication tool and is heavily used by design teams. Rather than rethink the entire design of the application itself, my prototype isolates itself into an extension, which allows me to explore functionality and pain points without having to worry about creating an entire product framework to work off of.

Slack Lightning: Functionality

Rather than open up another full interface for quick questions, Slack Lightning allows users to send messages directly from the menu bar. Users can tailor questions to have text-based responses or Yes or No responses, simplifying and accelerating team communication.

On the receiving end, users can fully respond to messages with one simple click, or enable keyboard shortcuts for even faster communication. Slack Lightning operates exclusively in the desktop menubar and notification widgets, preserving the normal functionality of the application.

Slack Lightning: Features

Slack Lightning operates extremely quickly and provides instantaneous messaging and response features. For both sender and receiver, users can communicate at high speeds without completely having their attention hijacked and workflow put on pause.

Using this interface, users can respond to high-priority, low-bandwidth problems without having to change applications. By operating in the menu bar, Slack Lightning is instantaneous messaging from the menu bar without the bells and whistles of common messaging platforms.

Slack Lightning: Comparison Analysis

Slack Lightning
This prototype allows users to bypass cumbersome interfaces and animations. It distills communication into a lightweight, agile form that empowers users to communicate with team members quickly.

Current State of Communication
Communication across teams is essential for a project's success, but current forms of communication are heavy in that they require large amounts of attention and screen real estate. The animations and bells and whistles are a heavy price to pay when quick access to communication is needed.

Slack Lightning is most effective when used for fast high-priority, low-bandwidth questions that are directed at specific individuals.

It functions as very fast, communication line between team members, and is best utilized when questions are brief, direct, and require no follow-up.

Moving Forwards

Within the design workflow, communication is a vital key feature that speeds up the timeline of projects dramatically. By exploring instantaneous communication without intrusive interfaces, this concept could be pushed forwards to free us of our love of sticky applications.

This model has potential to become its own standalone, lightweight application. Leaning on Slack as a base study was useful to help flesh out functionality, but isn’t necessary to push the concept further. I’d be interested to see what new ideas can stem for a tool such as this.


This four day design sprint taught me a lot about prioritization and execution. Certain elements had to fall by the wayside to make room for mission-critical arguments in my finalized solution.

It was a great experience working within the parameters of a design sprint challenge, and I learned how to critically prioritize and execute different elements of my study.