Transforming online meetings into engaging experiences

This student project was made during a 5-week design course at Umeå Institute of Design in collaboration with Konftel.

Team: Charlotte Philippe, Dongheng Wu; Collaboration Partner: Konftel; Time: 4 weeks; Context: Student project, Umeå Institute of Design;

My role

The project was a collaborative effort, with three of us working toward a common goal. I started discussions about privacy and ethical issues, which we built our concept around. While I was working on the visual design and prototypes using Figma, we collectively decided on the color scheme of the reactions portrayed.

How might we leverage engagement in online sessions to enhance the distributed work experience while respecting user privacy?

Translating subtile voice reactions into visuals

*aha is a concept of a smart speaker and interface that supports and displays engagement in online meetings while respecting user privacy. Subtle voice reactions are translated into visualisations.

Making back-channelling information visible

We decided to translate back-chaneling sounds, such ashmmmm” “aha!” “ooohh” “eeehh??, into abstract visuals that change depending on the number (height of wave) and type of reactions (colors) happening during the meeting. This concept allows people to show engagement and presence without the need for the video to be on.

Our Design Values

The principles on which our project is built upon.

◔ Enhancing behaviors
It was important for us to create a concept that would enhance people’s existing collaboration practices rather than force them to completely change the way they communicate.

◌ Collective approach
We decided to focus on showing collective rather than individual engagement. By doing so, we enable people to show engagement without being put on the spot.

● Respect of people’s privacy
Interviewees pointed out that privacy is one of their major concerns. Having to have their video on makes them feel that their privacy is being invaded. We designed a solution that protects people's privacy while enabling them to show presence without using video.

◍ Customisation
By utilising AI to identify subtle sound responses, our design solution is able to translate them into visual representations and filter out unwanted background noise. Furthermore, it allows for different cultural expressions of the same response type.

The Process of designing *aha

In general the design process was very human-centred and iterative with a crucial role in both using fundamental design methods and finding exploratory ways to gather relevant insights.

Gaining insights into work practices across the globe

We conducted 10 interviews with people with different professions from all over the world, such as USA, China, Japan, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany. Within our interviewees were, among others, a product manager, a private equity associate, project planners and a doctor.

Our goal was to get a holistic view on the current work situation of people across different cultural and professional backgrounds.

We went through a day in the life of the interviewees in detail to better understand certain routines they have adopted since working from home.

A day in a life of an interviewee
Discussing and sorting insights after an interview

Exploring alternative ways to gain insights

Since we didn't have a clear picture of what a home office actually looks like, we created an Instagram poll and simply asked people to send us photos of theirs. We realised that home office situations couldn't be more different.

Just a few selected home offices out of 30

Acting out early approaches

We tested what diffferent meeting situations would feel like without the visual stimuli of the screen and being tied to the table.

Simulating various meeting settings

We held a workshop to learn how different meeting settings can affect engagement and to gain insights into how people feel in these situations.

Validating insights

Creating user stories

We summarised the most important insights we gained and created user stories to work with them in the further process.

Main factors influencing engagement in online meetings

Our research helped us better pinpoint the factors influencing engagement in online meetings. By doing so, it enabled us to approach the topic of distributed work as presenting numerous opportunities rather than only problems to solve. Opinions about working from home can vary greatly, but the situation is not as black or white as it is often portrayed. In fact, most people see a benefit in working from home and wouldn't want to miss its comfort, at least for a few days a week.


What I have learned

Throughout this project, I learned a lot about working in teams with people from different academic and cultural backgrounds. As the only person with a design background, I sometimes found myself in a more of a leading position, which was both exciting, and challenging at times.

I also realised how important ethical issues are to me. We often went back and forth on the smallest details to find a solution that we could find ethically acceptable.

As for the concept, looking back, when implementing this sound filter option in the interface, I would probably move away from an additional speaker and focus more on other parts of the concept.