|Using Ambient Media to Support the Awareness of Remote Colleagues – Part 1: Examples|
|Designing for a Workforce That Acts More Sustainably – Part 1|
|Designing ... Sustainably – Part 2|
|Designing ... Sustainably – Part 3|
|Designing ... Sustainably – Part 4|
|Designing ... Sustainably – Part 5|
|Designing ... Sustainably – Part 6|
|A Proposal for Playful Interactive Persuasion: The "Employees' Commute Calculator" (ECC) • Part 2|
|DIS 2010 – A UI Design Practitioner's Report|
|Review of Design is the Problem (Shedroff)|
|Sustainability section on the SAP company Website|
|SAP's current sustainability report (2010) • 2009 • 2008|
By Gerd Waloszek, SAP User Experience, SAP AG – December 22, 2011
This series of two articles supports and extends my article, Designing for a Workforce That Acts More Sustainably – Part 4: Using Ambient Media for Supporting the Awareness of Remote Colleagues, by discussing the following topics that I already touched on in the article in more detail:
Thus, there is some unavoidable redundancy between the article and this series. This series is for readers who want to learn more about how ambient media could be used in a work context and who also like to engage in brainstorming. This second article in the series addresses the second item, namely, ideas of how the selected DIS 2010 projects could be transferred to an office environment.
To complement and extend the examples from the first part of this article and to transfer the ideas to a work context in more detail, I would like to sketch two work place scenarios, in which ambient media are used to convey awareness information:
Although I discussed both scenarios in part 1 in the context of a specific prototype, namely SnowGlobe and Home Awareness, we will see that the characteristics of the prototypes will actually blend together and that scenarios are more important to the design than their "sources of inspiration".
The design ideas for both scenarios will use vision as the primary source of information, because in a work environment, vision is the primary modality to use. Visual signals do, however, compete and conflict with visual attention that is focused on the computer screen. Below, I will suggest how the competition issue can be dealt with. I will also consider the use of sound. Sound is generally regarded as being too obtrusive, particularly in settings where several employees sit together in one room or work in cubicles. But there are valid reasons for considering its use – I will discuss this below, too. Temperature, touch, and smell, on the other hand, do not make much sense in a work context; they are better suited to one-to-one connections.
Both scenarios are addressed with two-way designs: There is a central installation for a "central" team or person and there are remote devices for remote colleagues. Information flows in both directions. The designs can be symmetric or asymmetric, depending on the purpose of the installation. For example, in some scenarios one party can be more a receiver than a sender of information while, in others, there is no difference between the participants.
The first scenario, for which I want to explore the use of ambient media, comprises a high-level manager who has about half a dozen direct reports at various locations. The manager has a room of his own, and, typically, the direct reports do, too. I already discussed this scenario as a potential application of the SnowGlobe prototype, although the original SnowGlobe design is only suited to one-to-one connections. The ambient medium that I propose here consists of two elements:
As indicated, I would like to suggest exploiting the characteristics of peripheral visual attention in this scenario. Spatial (movements) and temporal variations are good candidates for ambient signals, because human peripheral vision is very sensitive to changes at the periphery. If work conditions permit, sound is also a good candidate for use as an ambient signal, because it does not interfere with focused visual attention to, for example, the computer screen. Sound can, however, only be used if the direct reports have a room of their own. Otherwise the sound signals would disturb other colleagues who sit in the same room.
In the following, I propose a number of similar indicators that use (1) movement to attract attention and indicate the activity level and (2) brightness and position to indicate local time and presence or absence. Remember, however, that the proposed visualizations may not be acceptable for everyone and that an abstract visualization might be more appropriate.
Figure 1-2: Installation for the high-level manager (left; status of direct reports – one direct report lives in a time zone where night has already set in) and the direct reports (right; status of the high-level manager only)
Note that it is not necessary for the manager and his direct reports to use the same realization of the ambient medium. While the manager may prefer bird cages because the bird song allows him to monitor his direct reports' activities without looking at the indicators, the direct reports might prefer a butterfly in a cage or a fish in an aquarium.
The indicators for the high-level manager can also be combined into one compound indicator, like one larger cage for all the butterflies or birds, or a larger aquarium for all the fishes. Here, the idea of a software solution springs to mind: The behavior of the birds, butterflies, or fishes can be controlled by software and the ensemble presented in a device similar to a photo frame, which can be placed on the high-level manager's desktop (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: A collage of an artificial aquarium (Marine Aquarium 3 Deluxe application) presented in a photo frame-like device
I will pursue this idea below with further "natural settings", like artificial plants swaying in the "wind". Instead of presenting the ambient display in a dedicated device, the displays could also be projected onto the wall or ceiling using a small LCD projector.
I mentioned already that the indicators presented so far may not be acceptable to some employees. Therefore, it is important to look for indicators that present the same information using an abstract representation. Here are some suggestions for abstract indicators, which are based on changes in brightness, color, form, movement, and sound:
Below, I present some more potential ambient displays that could be used in the work environment – irrespective of the specific scenario.
In the second scenario, for which I want to explore the use of ambient media, I consider a small team of about a dozen members that consists of a core team and a few remote colleagues. Ideally, the core team resides in one room, and the remote colleagues work from home. I already discussed this scenario as a potential application of the Home Awareness prototype, although the original design is only suited to asymmetrical one-to-one connections. Once again, the ambient medium that I propose consists of two elements:
Figure 4-5: Installation for the central team (left; remote colleagues only) and the remote workers (right; core team at the center, remote colleagues at the periphery, gray = remote worker him/herself)
Sound is not used in this scenario because it can be disruptive in an office. However, it would make sense to supply the system with a voice communication facility as an additional communication channel, as I already indicated in part 1 of this article series. Sound is not as distracting as video – that's why we still have radio stations – and allows team members to stay in contact through verbal communication in both directions without the need to avert their gaze from the computer screen or use other devices. For example, they might ask quick questions without having to use the phone or a VoIP solution. Verbal contact could be initiated through some extraordinary activity of the respective indicator (for example, the light might flicker fast or the leaves of a wooden lamp might flap).
The cubes shown above are just one of many possible alternatives for the ambient displays. The individual indicators in both the core team's and the remote colleagues' ambient displays could be implemented in many ways. The original Home Awareness prototype uses Scandinavian wooden lamps, but any other lamp type could also serve the purpose, including the (ugly) chandeliers that I presented in part 1 of the article series (see Figure 6).
Figure 6: Not to my taste, but hopefully illustrating the principle of arranging the individual indicators in a spatial array...
Moreover, the visualization of activity is not restricted to temporal brightness patterns. Spatial patterns can be used as well, for example:
As I already mentioned, I will present some more potential ambient displays that could be used in a work environment – irrespective of the specific scenario – in the following.
This section of the article has even more of a brainstorming style than the remainder. Here, I collect ideas for potential indicators for use in ambient displays, irrespective of a specific scenario.
Appropriate indicators are essential to the successful application of ambient media to convey awareness information. But where can we get inspiration for designing indicators from? For small indicators, inspiration can, for example, be gained from USB and other gadgets that are sold on the Internet, although these are not directly usable and not at all intended for being used in ambient media. Figures 7 to 12 show a selection of gadgets that I have found on the Internet:
Figures 7-12: USB and other gadgets from the Internet might serve as sources of inspiration for ambient media
Here are a few proposals for ambient media that, at least in part, have been inspired by these gadgets:
Effects such as color changes or movement should be subtle to avoid disturbing people too much. Nevertheless, they should also be able to attract the employees' attention for specific events, for example, when an employee in a central team tries to contact a remote colleague.
Further inspiration for ambient displays comes from nature and our environment, but needs, of course, to be implemented in software using artificial objects like the ones I have already described above (butterflies, birds, and fishes). Here are a few more examples:
Figure 12: This photo demonstrates the principle of using different plants to convey the activity of several persons through plants swaying in the wind (photo by the author)
These ambient displays might be projected onto walls or ceilings or presented on large screens. They might also appear as a small window on the employees' computer screens.
Inspiration for larger ambient media, such as surfaces that act as ambient media, is harder to find. Perhaps a look at the work of some interaction designers (art and museum installations, media facades, and so on) might provide us with some inspiration:
Figures X-Y: Media facade (SPOT project, Tim Edler) and museum project (floating numbers, Dennis Paul and Patrick Kochlick). Both were presented at the Innovationsforum Interaktionsdesign, Potsdam, Germany, in 2007 (photos by the author)
In my article, Designing for a Workforce That Acts More Sustainably – Part 4: Using Ambient Media for Supporting the Awareness of Remote Colleagues, I have already discussed the impact of providing awareness information through ambient media on sustainability. Therefore, I do not want to repeat this discussion here. Furthermore, if I were not convinced about the positive impact of ambient media, I would not have written this article...This article is different from many others that I have written so far in that the ideas presented here are mere sketches that need to be explored and evaluated. Thus, hopefully, some designers will pick up the ideas presented here and explore them with "real" prototypes and – one day perhaps with real products.