Transforming online meetings into engaging experiences

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

Team: Charlotte Philippe, Dongheng Wu; Collaboration Partner: Konftel; Time: 5 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 often initiated discussions about privacy and ethical issues, which we built our concept around. While I was working on the visual design and prototypes, 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?

Challenge

The Covid 19 crisis accelerated the trend from office to remote work, forcing many companies and organizations to rethink their traditional work structures. This radical change has impacted many factors in employees' daily work lives, and the term "zoom fatigue" has become widely known. We asked ourselves how we can rethink computer-based communication to bring more engagement back into meetings and at the same time reduce visual stimuli, which are a factor in fatigue.

Solution
Translating subtile voice reactions into visuals

*aha is a concept of a smart speaker and interface that supports and visualizes engagement in online meetings while respecting user privacy. Subtle voice reactions are translated into visualizations. Back-channeling sounds, such ashmmmm” “aha!” “ooohh” “eeehh?? are translated 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

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

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 situations 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
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.

Acting out early approaches

Early on, we tested initial ideas. In this case, we focused on how it would feel to be without the visual stimuli of the screen and untethered 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 such situations.

Validating insights

Creating user stories

We summarized the most important findings and used those to create user stories in order to elaborate on 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.

Visualizing information flow during meetings

We created our experience model to represent the flow of information during face-to-face and computer-mediated sessions. We utilized it to enable people to quickly grasp the current problem.

Experience model

Silent brainstorming

Each week we had a few silent brainstorming sessions to get our ideas down on paper. Although we had many in-depth and fruitful conversations in the group, in some situations the silence helped us to be creative and gave us space to process and reflect.

Initial sketches created during one of our silent brainstorming sessions.

What I have learned

Throughout this project, I learned a lot about working in teams with people from different academic and cultural backgrounds. Since I was the only person with a design background, working in my group was indeed an exciting challenge, and also very inspiring and educational at the same time.

I realized how important ethical issues are to me. In fact, we often racked our brains over the smallest details to find a solution that was the least invasive and most acceptable to us.

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.