product • design • marketing • front-end engineering

Alto Mail

When given the challenge of increasing the customer base and usage of AOL Mail by creating a new sub-brand, I couldn’t resist attempting the impossible. Building a new mail client from scratch is an impossible feat, but instead of being a scrappy startup, the starting point here was a robust, tried-and-true email infrastructure. After a long life as an internet leader, AOL became the Procter & Gamble of internet brands, so we created a new one. Alto Mail.

Looking past its unique and exceptional features for a moment, when we first released Alto Mail, it had a very stylized and distinct look using custom fonts, a unique iconographic style, and a muted color palette. We changed course to make sure it was a premier citizen on both mobile platforms through customer reviews and a very close relationship with Apple and Google. As a result, we became the top-rated mail client on both platforms and had early access to new features so we could showcase the best of the current OS releases.

As for the features that made Alto Mail stand out, we analyzed the content of users’ email as it came in, not for advertising, tracking, or sellable insights, but to enhance and elevate the content coming into their inbox. For example, if you had an upcoming flight, we’d show you all the essential information you needed for that flight in the event you needed to call your travel agent or airline. As the flight got closer, we’d start updating information like departure and arrival time, along with the gate number and driving directions to the airport. Once you landed, Alto Mail rolled information about your car rental, hotel stay, and dinner and event reservations into a cohesive trip you could quickly access.

Alto didn’t stop there. We also took a unique approach to filtering mail and let users create what we called stacks. A stack would let you choose to view all images, attachments, or emails from a specific individual or group. Have a friend who regularly sends beautiful pictures of birds? Make a stack to show all photo attachments from her.

Given the focus on temporal activities, we ultimately added calendar functionality to blend in your daily schedule with your travel itinerary.