This project explores how human connections can be enabled in remote space so that remote collaboration becomes an empowering act instead of an limiting substitute.
Human magic is a term we coined during our research to describe what is currently missing during remote collaboration — or rather to describe what connects us when we share the same space collaborating with other people.
Human magic is the engagement we feel in the room when everyone is pulling in the same direction.
Human magic is the energy people radiate when they talk about something they're passionate about and it ignites the passion in others.
Human magic is what elevates collaboration to a new height and enables teams to achieve greatness.
To bring this sense of Human Magic to the remote space, we rethought the way we communicate and collaborate in a remote team setting.
In this new remote setting, each team member has the same setup. Team members are split across seperate screens, each of which is equipped with a camera and an array of speakers just meant and representing this particular person.
Through this setup, conversational acts that are otherwise limited to physical meetings become visible again.
By placing a camera on the screen, people virtually look each other in the eye when talking. This eye contact makes conversations more personal and connecting.
Through the portrait-orientation of screens, body language gets across and gives people the power to express themselves more clearly.
The camera in each screen captures implicit head-turning and makes it clear who is attending whom.
Each team member has an identical setup of n-1 separated screens (n = amount of team members). The team members are arranged around a 'virtual round table', which determines which team member occupies which screen.
When team member Magenta turns to the screen of their team member Blue, it looks to the other team members (who are observing the situation with the camera of their screen) as if the two team members are actually turning to each other.
For our process, we combined a series of ethnographic research with subsequent experience prototyping.
Qualitative remote interviews revealed that people couldn't describe what they were missing in remote work compared to their previous co-located settings. To them, it was nothing specific but more the 'magic' that occurs when people get together in a room.
We used this 'magic' as a reference point and metaphor to map, explore and describe the dynamic that is happening when people communicate and collaborate in a physical space.
We concluded that the this 'human magic' is enabled through physical conversational acts such as mutual eye contact or body language. To explore how this dynamic could brough to remote space, in a next step we engaged in bodystorming and experience prototyping where we replicated current remote work settings and technology.
Through bodystorming and experience prototyping sessions, we explored the effects of current remote technology on conversational acts such as eye contact or body language and how these acts — and the human magic' — could be enabled again.
The common landscape-orientation of current screens limits what is visible and perceivable of a person. By rotating the frame, body language becomes visible again.
Current remote technology doesn't allow for natural eye contact. By relocating the camera to eye-level, natural eye contact is enabled which bonds you with the person you're talking to.
Because current remote technology displays every video participant on a single screen which also contains the camera, it is hard to follow conversation flows because the position of a person in space is cannot be perceived. By seperating participants across multiple screens, mutual gaze and natural head-turning becomes possible again and makes the conversation flow visible.
The experience prototyping sessions exposed different smaller building blocks each of which improved remote communication in some way. In a next step, we formulated these smaller building blocks into single coherent concepts.
In a next step, we consolidated our multiple smaller findings and buildings into single concepts and build more advanced prototype with which we reenacted a remote work scenario.
During our experience prototyping, the separation of video participants across multiple screens turned out to be strong and we decided to use it as the core for our concept. Through a more advanced prototype, we further explored and validated this separation.
To convey the concept of Human Magic to our collaboration partner and convince them of our findings, we shot a experience video in which we used a dinner scene with friends to capture the feeling of togetherness, human magic and what it means to get together with people in a physical space.
We used the dinner setting of the experience video as a bridge to communicate our concept. Through small looped video clips we tried to make the experience of our concept graspable.
The seperation of screens and camera makes it natural to follow conversation flows and who is attending whom.
The separation of screens and cameras allows natural conversational acts such as leaning in to talk to the other person.
The separation of screens and cameras makes it possible to point at people to engage them in conversations.
Portrait orientation of the screen allows to express oneself naturally through body language.
Eye contact during conversations creates intimacy and replicates a natural conversational act.
The entire project was highly collaborative and, especially in the initial research and exploration phase, ideas were fluidly built upon from each other.
In the team, I had an important role in conceptualizing the prototypes and communicating our final concept. For example, I was responsible for the idea of the short video clips and their realization in After Effects. I was also responsible for directing and producing the final hero imagery.
One of the biggest challenges of the project was that the pandemic prevented us from bringing in external people to enange with us in experience prototyping or to validate our results. Since we only had ourselves to test, we had to take every step carefully so as not to blindly fall in love with our own ideas.
My personal learning from the project is the experience-heavy approach. For example, in the beginning I was not a fan of the idea of pursuing "Human Magic" as a metaphor because I found it too abstract. However, I quickly realized the strength of Human Magic and how valuable it is for storytelling and conveying the concept.