CONCEPT, UI/UX DIRECTION, UX RESEARCh
After years focused on high bandwidth visual collaboration with the Mezzanine conference room system, our design team stumbled upon a realization. Many of the benefits we’d focused on for room-to-room and room-to-remoter meetings could help make purely virtual meetings better, too. In fact, due to their constraints — smaller screens, fewer pixels, network conditions, audio quality, latency, etc. — there might be more pain to alleviate.
By making it easy for everyone to share content, annotate freely, and respond non-verbally, we aimed to restore some of the benefits of in-person interactions to virtual meetings. With this in mind, we set out to build Rumpus: a social, collaborative screen sharing app targeting remote teams.
Rumpus brings in-person social cues to virtual meetings to help conversation flow naturally and ensure no one gets left out.
Validating the Concept
For the first time in ages, we found ourselves with an opportunity to embrace a proper formative research phase. We conducted interviews with knowledge workers on remote teams to learn what their meeting experiences are like, and to identify any common pains. Our UX researcher created an interview guide, and we invited stakeholders to conduct interviews as well. This gave everyone a grounding in the research, and important context leading into our first design sprint.
After performing an affinity mapping exercise with results from our interviews, we had some preliminary findings:
- Remote workers often feel disconnected from their teammates without the impromptu casual conversations — “water cooler talk” — that occur naturally in an office.
- A surprising number of teams working remotely keep their video off during meetings. Though some cited bandwidth concerns, many simply found video invasive while working from a personal space like their own homes.
- Remote meetings — especially those without video — suffer from awkward silences and overlapping conversation. Hosts try to manage this, but note that quieter team members have more difficulty contributing than they would in an office setting.
- Sharing content during remote meetings often leads to a single presenter format (even when sharing work from others), or delays as people “pass the ball” to the next sharer.
I led a design sprint, which focused the team and stakeholders on the problem, and allowed us to rapidly prototype and test the idea. Positive results gave Rumpus a green light.
With some effort I made the case that the dedicated week would be worth the time spent, and got everyone in a room. We formalized the problem, and a set a goal:
Help remote teams build rapport and work more effectively.
By midweek we had a room full of fantastic sketches and picked a promising direction with a quick dot voting exercise.
By the following day, our prototype felt remarkably convincing. We created a simulated flow through the app in Keynote, complete with transitions and simulated micro interactions. Since it was supposed to convey a meeting, we recorded ourselves in virtual meetings and dropped in the clips, with scripted audio to sell the illusion.
Here are the key ideas included in the prototype:
Switch quickly between simultaneously shared screens.
See who’s looking at what, so you can follow along.
Point and draw to call attention to details within shared content.
Share sentiment at any time, without interrupting.
It worked. On Friday we tested our prototype with 5 participants carefully selected to represent the perspectives of remote or semi-remote team members. Results were positive, and we learned some important things.
- Participants liked how simultaneous screen sharing could reduce friction and avoid delays when switching presenters.
- Simple pointing and annotation features stood out as a valuable feature.
- Emoji reactions were enjoyed, but not a major selling point for most people.
Opportunities for Improvement
- Some hosts worried about keeping attention focused with multiple screen shares to look at.
- Participants lost the context of the meeting while sharing.
- Some icons weren’t working well.
Solving Real Pains
Ephemeral annotations avoid the need for verbal way finding. Users can point, circle, scribble out, and connect ideas visually in real time so everyone can follow along.
“So many times, especially with app screens, I’m like ‘ok, just look right here!’…so being able to circle, that’s really helpful.”Project Manager
In early studies, annotation stood out to most users as the most valuable feature. This actually surprised us, given that other meeting apps offered similar functionality in one form or another. The reality was that study participants didn’t use those features because they felt clunky or were harder to access.
Rumpus puts annotation at everyone’s finger tips — appropriate, since the whole intent is to make pointing and gesturing virtually as fast and easy as pointing a finger at stuff tacked to a wall. The ephemeral nature of Rumpus annotations also eliminates overhead, allowing the marks to flow with the conversation.
Reactions let folks respond without interrupting, keeping the team engaged and making sure everyone can express their thoughts and opinions.
In our research, users expressed frustration at the difficulty of entering the conversation during virtual meetings. Body language and facial expressions that might suggest someone wants to speak get lost. Latency leads to cross-talk and makes it hard to interject.
“The emoji reaction means everyone on the call can have a voice, which is great for remote work.”Sr. Product Manager
Reactions help alleviate these pains, allowing everyone to express thoughts and opinions, or indicate a desire to speak, without interrupting the conversation or worrying when to jump in. In practice, we found this also increased engagement since people felt comfortable signaling agreement or other sentiments even when they wouldn’t otherwise speak up.
Viewer badges show what everyone’s looking at, and help users follow changes in focus — extra important when multiple people are sharing at once.
With the benefit of simultaneous screen sharing, there’s also the risk that attention gets split and people can’t easily follow along. We added avatars in the bottom corner of each shared screen to let everyone know where everyone else is looking. This helps people follow along organically as attention shifts, and helps the host guide attention of individuals as needed.
“This is really cool! you don’t have to keep asking people to share.”Product Owner
These badges also appear on the content you’re currently looking at, so you know who else is seeing exactly what you are at any moment. Subtle animations as people shift their focus provide a visual cue, just like heads turning in a conference room.
Annotations and reactions appear atop the live app of the person sharing, so they never miss out on feedback from their team even while presenting.
If anything, it’s even more important for the person sharing to see and respond to emoji reactions and annotations from their teammates. Without this context, all of the non-verbal responses to their share would be lost. Rumpus layers these elements right on top of the the shared window or screen, so that the sharer can easily follow along even while driving the application directly.
After a period of rapid development and testing we had a product that worked well, solved some real pains we’d identified, and that we enjoyed using ourselves every day. We also had ideas for some great new features based on early feedback that we were excited to build.
We launched a beta so we could start learning more about the behaviors of real users. It was a rocky start. We quickly identified a new problem to solve:
New users are getting stuck before they can witness the benefits of Rumpus for themselves.
A great app experience that solves real problems is important, but also useless if users don’t get the chance to engage with it.
The first-time app experience is critical to capturing new users in any tool. In a meeting app, there’s an added challenge since guests and hosts have very different needs and expectations. It’s also challenging to show the benefits of a collaborative meeting app to someone trying the tool out alone, as they might before asking their team to use it in a meeting.
We improved our onboarding flow over half a dozen quick iterations, studying how users approached each step and noting where they got stuck.
After several iterations, our new flow optimized for first time meeting hosts, and consolidated several steps into one simple screen. A passwordless login system made sign up quick and easy. Changing the button text to “Try for Free” assuaged fears for new hosts and greatly increased conversion rates — from 20% success in one study, to 100% in the next.
The sign in and join pathways were de-emphasized since our newly implemented meeting links allowed users and guests to join a meeting automatically, and sign in was unlikely to be needed except in rare cases.
A voice chat meeting option introduced a clear default path, greatly simplifying the flow for most users.
Because Rumpus took a new approach to meeting apps by integrating with popular video services, some configuration complexity was unavoidable. This was further complicated by the fact that some services couldn’t be embedded, resulting in confusing side-by-side scenarios where both apps ran together.
I assumed Rumpus would be its own standalone thing, so I’m confused — what is the relationship between Zoom and Rumpus?Sr. UX Designer
Based on interviews and past studies, we knew that many teams didn’t even use video anyway. This was even more true where sharing, and Rumpus enables simultaneous sharing, offering even more content. Adding a built-in voice chat option provided an answer that still let the main benefits of Rumpus shine, while providing a simple path for new users to take without any additional configuration.
A simulated meeting with fake content allows hosts to try out Rumpus on their own, guiding them through use of key features and giving them confidence before inviting others.
Feedback from early user studies of the onboarding flows revealed that new users were reluctant to bring their colleagues in to try the app with them before understanding it. However, the benefits of Rumpus can’t be seen without other people.
Although costly to build, a simulated meeting experience gives new users the option to experience Rumpus in full, all on their own. Simulated screen shares bring plenty of content into the picture, and prompts guide the user through trying out key features. The demo meeting ends with a suggestion to invite a colleague, making sure the next step is clear.
Jump to a Project
- RumpusA more social video meeting tool for distributed teams with collaborative screen sharing and non-verbal feedback.
- MezzanineA next-generation conference room system that enables multiple participants to share content at once on a large, flexible workspace.
- Mezzanine MobileA use-case driven redesign concept for the Mezzanine mobile device experience.
- GlissandoAn entirely gesture-controlled music and podcast player for iOS.
- litl OSA minimal, cloud-centric interface for a uniquely acrobatic family computing device known as the litl webbook.
- SugarThe collaborative learning platform for kids developed for One Laptop Per Child, now in the permanent collection at MoMA.