Live from CSA: Separation Anxiety: Taking Messenger from a Feature to a Standalone App

Taking Messenger from a Feature to a Standalone App, by Marissa Phillips

logoThe Facebook Messenger app has been around for awhile, but no one bothered using it, because it was the same as what already existed on Facebook.


They focused on being “textceptional” – as close to texting as possible.

To start, the mobile designers began by working within the constraints of the actual phones, so that Messenger would feel like texting. Then they wanted to set up a system so that people who were on messenger would appear quickly, so that the user would know who was likely to receive messages.

They also looked at the conventions within mobile (iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows, and Nexus phones):

  • Gestures
  • Settings
  • Menus
  • Dialogs
  • Notifications
  • Permissions
  • Terminology (for example calling something a “gallery” vs. a “camera roll”)

Differentiating from text

They needed branding.

Started by looking at names – the problem being that a name change could throw off people who were already using messenger:

  • Instachat
  • Chat fastchat
  • Beeper
  • Chatme

Also started looking at logo refresh.

Temporarily called themselves “FMS” – a play on SMS. This helped them to visualize all the features that messenger brought together, between Facebook and SMS.

Landed on three core attributes: universal, instant, and fun

Agreed to keep the name because:

  • It’s recognizable and credible
  • It’s clea, and an industry-standard
  • It has a 4-star rating in the app store
  • Consistency is important

The design

Worked hard to get as clear as possible, but they thought that some things were obvious. Got too clear, too dry – “scary.” The basics (‘it’s ok to share your phone number’) were not basic at all.

Worked to be friendlier both in language and visuals

Explained the value in a human way.

Then they were ready to launch.

The launch

Things started off well – they got good reviews. They found out the “faster” bit was important.

But then they realized they needed to separate out messaging from Facebook altogether, or people wouldn’t migrate to the messenger app. They also didn’t want to dedicate resources to two separate experiences.

Then they had to break the news to people.

  • Used first names for a friendlier, more personal feel
  • Offered places for users to give feedback
  • Allowed users to “learn more” as a second option to “install now” (when “use the old version” was no longer an option)

The press they got was terrible, and many many people lost trust.

  • They added a “myth vs. fact” page for people to learn.
  • They determined Messenger needed more of a voice
  • They needed to be communicating with the people who they wanted to use the product
  • Things go wrong. You have to say something when they do.

Overall, everything they created – from sound design to words to logo – was intended to follow the 3 brand attributes: universal, instant, and fun.

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