Does anyone notice the red “Importance” icon in Outlook?

Posted on March 7, 2010 · Posted in Analysis and Opinion

Much of Email is about attention. The sender of an email wants to secure the attention of the recipient long enough for them to read and understand the message; the recipient, usually inundated with mail, may be unwilling or unable to react to every message in their Inbox. Thus, it is up to the sender to grab a chunk of the recipient’s limited stock of attention. In particular, if a message is truly important, the sender wants the recipient to realize this.

Outlook offers a way to mark the importance of a message, by setting its importance to High. This is the setting that attaches the familiar red exclamation point icon to the message in the Inbox. I always wondered, however, how effective this is: do the recipients become jaded and stop paying attention to the red icons? Do senders prefer more in-your-face methods, like setting a “Follow up flag” that will pop up an alert when the message arrives?

There is also the opposite of the red exclamation mark: the down-pointing blue arrow icon that denotes low importance. Sadly, this is very rarely used: who wants to tell the recipient a message is not important? And this is why when I get one of these, I always pay attention to the message: I figure that if a friend has taken the trouble of notifying me it isn’t urgent, at least it must be worth reading, or this considerate sender wouldn’t have sent it…

I’d like to hear from you, my readers: what is your take on the red Importance icon? Do you rely on it? Let us know in the comments!