The goal of this project was to invent audiovideo interactions that enable professionals to bring the best of themselves during remote collaborations. The project was in collaboration with Konftel AB.
When teams get together in a room and work towards a shared goal, magic starts to happen. Minds get aligned, a shared vision is built and a feeling of togetherness fills the room. The global introduction of remote work in 2020 left many people longing for this magic. How can this magic interhuman experience be brought back into the remote space and how can current remote audiovideo solutions be reimagined to bring out the best in everyone?
The entire project was highly collaborative and especially in the initial research and exploration phase ideas were tightly built upon each other.
In the team I had an important role in conceptualizing the prototype phase and communicating our final concept to our stakeholders, for example through small graspable video clips.
The outcome of this project is merely a possible interpretation of our research results and an artifact we designed to make our findings tangible.
During our research, we looked a lot at the dynamics of co-located teams and what creates the "magic" in physical teams. To make this magic tangible and conversational, we coined the term 'human magic', which is an umbrella term for the multi-layered dynamics of physical collaboration - such as body language or eye contact.
In our proposed remote setting, each team member has the same identical setup. Team members are split across separate screens, each of which is equipped with a camera.
Behind the scenes, team members are arranged around a virtual table where each screen acts as a proxy of a team member sitting opposite to you, to your left or to your right. Through this arrangement, each team member occupies a place in the physical space and conversational acts such as implicit body turning to a particular person are clearly communicated between all team members.
Key to our process was a 'prototyping as ideation' approach. Even during the initial research phase, we started to use experience prototyping and bodystorming to test various insights we got from interviews. We were then able to feed our own findings back into further interviews. The resulting feedback loop allowed us to identify problems of remote collaboration early on and to investigate them more deeply.
We kicked off the project by taking a look at current challenges of remote work. For this, we conducted ethnographic interviews with professionals and students and captured their voices about their own experience after six months of remote work.
The interviews with over 15 participants revealed that the majority of interviewees had difficulties describing what they were missing in remote space compared to their previous physical office space. To a majority, it was nothing specific but more the 'magic' that occurs when people get together in a room.
This description of magic stood out to us because it was very vague, but yet we could all relate to it. We decided to use the 'magic of physical spaces' as a reference point to further investigate the dynamic of people sharing and collaborating in the same space.
Building on the insights of the interviews, we hosted and led a remote co-creation workshop between our fellow students and our stakeholders (Konftel AB, a company for conferencing hardware).
During the workshop, we used the metaphor of 'magic in shared spaces' that was established during the interviews and used it to gain insights into what happens when people come together in a room.
Introducing the metaphor of 'magic' turned out to be a great success because it made the struggles of remote space conversational. It was vague enough that it allowed for freedom of interpretation but specific enough to be relatable. Using the metaphor and together with the participants, worked out the 'ingredients of successful collaboration', such as a common ground, understanding intentions and eye contact/intimacy.
In a next step, we transformed the insights from our workshops into prototypes. Through experience prototyping and bodystorming we explored how ingredients such as intimacy or understanding intentions are affected or limited by current remote technologies and how changing parameters of these technologies can change how we communicate and perceive each other.
From the various experience prototyping sessions, we were able to gain valuable insights into the limitations that current remote technologies can have on communication. For many prototypes we were able to draw connections to insights from interviews and workshops.
In a next step, we consolidated our findings into a single cohesive concept and build a more refined prototype. We chose the separation of team members across multiple screens as our main direction because it had the biggest impact during our experience prototyping sessions.
The refined prototype exceeded our expectations because it made the conversation feel natural. Through implicit head turning of each participant it was clear who was attending whom and it was possible to get immersed in conversation flows again. During our testing we felt a glimpse of this magic that we were looking for throughout our process. Together with features we explored earlier, such as a portrait-oriented frame, we finalized this as our concept and deliverable.
To communicate the concept to our stakeholders, we took two approaches:
After we set the stage with our experience video, we used the dinner scene as a bridge to communicate our concept. Through small looped video clips, we tried to make the experience of our concept graspable.
We concluded the project by presenting a 4-step proposal how Konftel, in the role of a hardware company, could incrementally implement our envisioned concept.