Welcome to Team Room

An overview of Team Room

Conference call experiences need to be focused, simple, and seamless. The Team Room interface provides an environment where teams can work together seamlessly to not just organize and plan work, but get it done. Sitting around any given conference table is a variety of people:

  • Denise, the technology literate strategy-focused project manager
  • Aaron, the computer science field expert
  • Cathy, the team player and technical worker bee
  • Marty, the non-technical marketer

Each of these people has particular goals for the virtual meeting - Cathy wants to get her directives, Denise needs all the information from her experts to get disseminated, Aaron wants efficiency in the meeting so he can return to work, and Marty wants to be able to focus on the content for the meeting, not the technology. For business conferences or meetings, all members need to be able to use the system, stay focused, contribute effectively, and feel competent. For more about our personas specifically, look at our design brief.

The experiences of these folks in a virtual conference call can be distilled into a hierarchy of needs. Fundamentally, a conference calling system must work - on a technical level. Once the nuts and bolts are built, designers can begin to think about flow. This is the concept that an interface does not produce obvious barriers to use, including buttons that are hidden, popular features not placed in an accessible way, etc. For a user, an interface with good flow is one in which the meeting will not be disrupted by the system. With good flow comes the concept of discoverability. Being able to access features when they become necessary to a call, labeling that lends itself to the function, providing helpful alternate text are all a piece of this. The other element of any conference call however is the human aspect. Effective meetings are ones in which the information that needs to be shared is disseminated, the work is completed, and the action items are assigned. Efficient meetings are ones in which all of this can get done quickly. Interface design should be able to foster these call needs, as much as it physically is capable of being navigated and used appropriately.


Present virtual conferencing systems such as Skype for Business, WebEx, Rabbit, and Google Hangouts offer a vast variety of features for virtual meetings . Team Room however is intentionally designed to be a productivity focused virtual conferencing program with a select number of high quality features and an experience which keeps in mind the user needs distilled by user interviews and personal experience. Team Room manifests a familiar physical experience of meeting face to face in a conference room into a virtual environment that can unite people in remote locations around the work at hand.

Feature Description, Heuristics, and Iterative Usability

A successful virtual conferencing software allows users from any walk of the business lifestyle to focus on their work, contribute effectively, and feel competent while being functional and flexible enough for different types of calls.

Ease of meeting design and set-up
One of our interviewees, an analyst for an energy company, told us that he “avoided arranging meetings...it is just too confusing for [him]”. This sentiment was echoed by our other users, and gets at the root of flow and discoverability needs for any interface. For systems like Webex, a complicated series of web portals, application windows, access codes, and emails makes coordination of a meeting challenging. Skype recently integrated into Outlook as an add-on item to a meeting, which inspired our conceptual development for a one-click navigation from Outlook to a lightweight meeting planner which automatically inserts the log-on credentials for a virtual and dedicated conference room into any iCal or Email. When the meeting reminder appears, a simple option to “Join” the call is provided, immediately directing the user to the conference room “Lobby.” Integrating into a familiar technology means that the application is accessible exactly when it would be needed - in planning, and later, in joining the call.

The planning page is designed with simplicity in mind. Borrowing from interactions similar to Google Documents or Microsoft Sharepoint, a title can be added and edited by simply clicking the text field or the added text. In a separate text field, agenda items can be added “chat-style” in which typing and hitting enter creates a visible record of the item, and the text field can be reused to enter the next item. In design, a clickable interaction is available for every Save and Edit feature to create a sense of ease for those unfamiliar with keyboard oriented interactions. On this design page, users are asked whether or not they will want a PDF transcript of the meeting emailed to them, in which case they are prompted to provide a valid email address.

This page provides flexibility in that no title or agenda items are mandatory, meaning that with two clicks (once in Outlook and once in the system) a virtual conference room can be “reserved” for the meeting and sent to pertinent personnel.

Creating a compelling lobby experience
Mentally preparing outside of a room before a meeting, knowing what to expect when entering a meeting room, and having advanced ability to test your equipment before presenting are all natural, physical ways in which a face-to-face meeting manifests itself. Our users indicated frustration with, and even told stories of embarrassing moments when, directly leaping into a call or failed equipment greatly compromised their ability to contribute in the meeting. Typical virtual conference calling systems do not adequately prepare a user for the call. Team Room attempts to create the typical interaction with a physical meeting space through minimalist interface design. The call screen itself is blurred in the background, giving a sense of removal from the call, but transparency into what is to come. The ability to check equipment and preset equipment defaults is also presented to the user. As was suggested in a final design review, building out a feature to troubleshoot equipment at this point would be of great value, and we would recommend to any that were to continue this work to consider this.

Also featured in the lobby experience is a place to establish one’s identity and see who is already in the meeting. Though a simple action, this creates a sense of “declaration” when entering the room, connecting someone to the call experience personally upon entry.

Collaborative workspace
One of the most difficult parts of a conference call is keeping the focus on the work. Members of the team are not in the place where they are used to being productive, and the work is not directly in front of them, as it would be in a face-to-face meeting. At the heart of Team Room is a collaborative workspace, named the Whiteboard. In putting the work front and center, the work is made visible to keep everyone quite literally on the same page. This allows the focus of the meeting to once again be on the work, rather than on the tool used for the call. Our prototype takes advantage of Google Docs, which is a tool already commonly used for collaborative teamwork. However, by implementing a cloud-based file sharing backend, interaction with the documents during a call could be simplified to commenting and editing.

The Whiteboard allows each user to have access to the same documents, allowing them to work at their own pace. The feeling of a personalized experience is not compromised by a unified interface. In fact, having a unified interface will enhance the experience for users that may need extra direction from their teammates in using the technology. From one of our users, we learned that the number of windows, personalized features, and methods of “getting lost” in an interface made recovery difficult during a meeting. Through intentionally pulling the focus on the work and less on navigation, we do not provide the opportunity for someone to “get lost” in the call.

Familiar Features and Common Mapping
In keeping with standard conference calling nomenclature, we decided to adopt screen sharing, chat, and various iconography for call controls. These have become necessary items for conference call productivity as we discovered from our users. Outside of these standards, we also adopted a distinctive mapping of physical conference room locations into a virtual reality. Using a “Lobby” to prepare for a meeting, entering the “Room,” sharing documents on the “Whiteboard” and viewing coworkers at the “Table” are all efforts to create a sense of familiarity in a strange environment. This mapping lends itself to function - at the Table, I can control how I appear and interact with others, on the Whiteboard, I can make my thoughts visible to my teammates. This mapping aspect also allows us, as designers, to call out the idea that the interface is meant to serve as a means of fostering better, productivity focused meetings through collaborative efforts.

Transparency
Lastly, a theme that we focused on throughout the process of designing Team Room was transparency. One of the biggest complaints that we heard during user interviews was that people don’t really trust conference calling systems to function as expected. Therefore, all of the features of Team Room are easily visible from one screen, rather than being hidden in menus or other windows.

Additionally, Team Room gives you at-a-glance information about the progress of the meeting through the Agenda. One can quickly and easily see how many agenda items remain to be completed, and what has been discussed already in the meeting.

In aggregate, these features create a simplistic, lightweight conference calling experience for business professionals. In making an intuitive tool that works seamlessly throughout a meeting, we hope to facilitate meetings that are both efficient and effective.

Interaction Walkthrough

You can view our final prototype here:

Prototype

For a guided walkthrough, see our documentation here:

For an explanation of all features, a walkthrough is shown here:

Final Conclusions and Reflections

Working groups, distributed teams, and company presentations are not supported fully by present virtual conferencing systems. Drawing upon the personas, user visits, and evaluations by peers on our design, we developed a set of features we believe could be a powerful new collaborative tool. Future development for this project include improving our prototype to allow for more agenda items, and include live video, screen sharing and giving control of your screen to another user. We would also love to take our prototype back to our users for another round of testing.

We chose Axure as a prototyping tool over the course of the semester. Axure was a powerful tool early in the semester for wireframing following paper prototyping, but as we kept working with it, we ran into many of its limitations as a tool for building more functional prototypes. It did allow us to move quickly during our prototyping stages and ensure that all the functionality we wanted to include was represented, but it fell short in a few areas where we wanted to go a little deeper, especially when trying to include live video. In the end, we are satisfied with our choice but would move away from Axure in the future for making a higher fidelity product.

Throughout this project, we emphasized certain heuristics over others. For example, our team embraced minimalist design by refusing to allow feature creep in Team Room. We included only what was absolutely necessary for our personas, which tied directly to our user needs of discoverability and flow. We also emphasized speaking the user’s language through mapping. Partway through, we began calling the collaborative workspace a Whiteboard, and we realized that we had the opportunity to expand that metaphor. We also found that thinking about our design as a mapping to a physical conference room assisted us in making design decisions. We struggled with deciding how to handle conference calls with a lot of participants until someone mentioned that in-person meetings wouldn’t be able to handle more than about eight people at the conference table anyway. This way of approaching our design certainly influenced the interactions we ultimately developed. Finally, we focused on consistency and standards, as we knew that most people are familiar with certain aspects of video calling services. This manifested itself in our choices around icons and what language to use.

After this semester of work, we find that we spent a lot of our time thinking about how people work effectively in meetings. In trying to design a tool that facilitates this, we inadvertently learned a lot about positive teaming interactions and experience and techniques for achieving them. Manifesting this into an interface which can facilitate these techniques was a powerful experience. We are confident that our final prototype is a good representation of a direction any business-focused conference calling system could go in. Team Room, with its goal to facilitate good teaming, ultimately brought us together as an effective team.

Final presentation slides:

Total semester work

Previous writeups can be found under the Supplementary Documents tab. Our working folder with all project related material can be found here:

Working folder