Catalist Email Alerts

Only Get What You Need

Helping clients manage their notifications so their inboxes stay nice and neat

Project Goal
Build an email alert feature that enables Catalist's high level executive clients to customize their notification settings to receive only the ads that are relevant to them in their inbox.
My Role
Product Designer
Year Completed
Product Designer, Product Manager, Account Manager, 3 Developers, JS Developer, UI Developer, DevOps
Wireframes of the email ad alert tool

The Client

Catalist compiles, enhances, stores, and dynamically updates data and provides data-related services exclusively to progressive organizations to help them better identify, understand, and communicate with the people they need to persuade and mobilize. They work with organizations to tailor data subscriptions to their needs and budgets.

Project Summary

Over the final phase of a three-phase project, we built and iterated on a customizable email alert tool that enables Catalist's clients to receive only the ad data they need. We went through three iterations of the alert, starting with opting to receive all new alerts, then to receive all alerts from a specific category, and finally to build custom email alerts for one or more states, issues, or campaigns.
Ad Alert Wireframes
Wireframe of the completed email ad alert framework with one saved message

The Challenge

Catalist sends out email alerts for all political television advertisements that  aire throughout the country every 15 minutes. Clients opt-in to receive those ad alerts with information including the name of the ad, where it aired, what issues were addressed, who sponsored the ad, etc.

As you can imagine, during election season, clients could be overwhelmed with ad alerts, receiving nearly 100 emails a day when they might only be focused on one or two races or issues.

During user interviews, clients identified customized email ad alerts as their top priority. We had to build a way for Catalist's clients to better tailor the ad alerts they receive to only send them relevant data. Understanding how their clients worked and when and what information they need helped me design a system that would meet their needs.


The Research

My research illuminated two different personas:
  • Mid-Level Director: Is routinely digging into the data, building custom reports, and completing in-depth political data analysis
  • High-Level Executive: Relies on the mid-level director for detailed data but needs to stay informed when new political ads are released
Catalist Client Personas
High-level executive persona's needs, the tools they use, and the frequency they use the toolsMid-level director persona's needs, the tools they use, and the frequency they use the tools
Through research, I also learned several other key things that I used to tailor the ad alert experience.

Clients wanted the ability to build ad alerts by issue, state, campaign, sponsors, and districts. They are often following a series of races or a series of issues, rather than only one, so there is a need to add multiple ad alerts.

Election cycles are also cyclical and have ebbs and flows throughout the year. A client may be tracking something for a few months and then not need to track it for a few months before picking it back up at a later time.

The Solutions

Iterative Improvements

We started by adding the ability for Catalist clients to opt-in to receive email ad alerts in the Client Portal web app. The MVP was just an on-or-off option. Clients either received all email ad alerts or no email ad alerts.
Ad Alert MVP
The MVP of the email ad alert tool that only allowed users to turn it on and off
In our next iteration, the development team built a solution that basic customization to the ad alerts. This version allowed users to select either "all" or "some" ads for issues, states, and campaigns.

This iteration used an “and” pattern, meaning all of the ads for one selection and all of the ads for a second selection. If a client selected voting, Supreme Court, Illinois, and governor’s races, they would receive email ad alerts for all ads about voting and all ads about the Supreme Court and all ads from Illinois and all ads in governors’ races. It would not allow users to build specific alerts with ads specifically about voting in the Illinois governor’s race.
Ad Alert Second Iteration
The second version of the email ad alert tool that only allowed users to select all of a type of alert rather than the ability to build alerts
While this new pattern was an improvement over the initial all-or-none option, after demoing the new feature we realized that this solution did not meet the stakeholder or client needs.

Because this feature was identified as the top priority by our clients, I was tasked with developing a more functional  ad alert approach that would give clients the ability to customize based on an issue, campaign, or state.

Expand logic to include and/or values

The solution to developing a tool that met the clients needs was to allow them to combine filter options using a series of and/or logic.

All selections in a filter would use “or” logic, and selections between filters would use “and” logic. So, if a client wants to receive alerts for women’s reproductive rights in the US Senate race in Ohio, they could select the state filter and Ohio, then select race type and US Senate, and finally, select issues and pick multiple issues – like abortion and birth control. The relationship between state, race type, and issues is an “and” statement, and the relationship between abortion and birth control is an “or” statement.

Add filters for sponsors and districts

Clients expressed the desire to also be able to filter ad alerts by sponsor and district. This meant adding two additional filter options .

While there would now be five filters, there would only be the need to have four filter blocks because the district filter is a combination of both the state and race filters. There would never be a scenario where a client would need to use all five filter options at the same time.
using the district filter
A gif showing how to build an email ad alert

Add save, edit, and delete email ad alerts

From user interviews, I learned that clients often are following a series of races or a series of issues. To let them track multiple things at once, I added the ability to save multiple email ad alerts.

Users would name each email ad alert with a unique name. They could then edit the values in a saved ad alert — for example when the contested House races are different in the next election cycle — or delete an ad alert that is no longer needed — maybe Critical Race Theory isn't a high-priority issue anymore.

Toggle on and off without losing saved alerts

The final thing I learned through research was that election cycles are cyclical with ebbs and flows throughout the year. A client may be tracking something for a few months and then not need to track it for a few months before picking back up with it again at a later time.

To help accommodate this pattern, I designed a system that would let users toggle their ad alerts off and then back on again without losing their saved alerts. Users could then edit or delete old ad alerts and add any new ones they needed without having to rebuild previous versions.
A gif showing how to build an email ad alert