DesignMap

Video Conferencing, What exactly is missing?

by Nathan Kendrick
8 min read

Let's make the new normal, more normal.

TL;DR

Video conferencing is a powerful medium, now entwined into our everyday life. Yet its shortcomings take a toll, leaving us exhausted after just a one hour meeting or remote learning session. We’re taking a deep dive on why.

What we discovered is that true connection is difficult to form, maintain, and build without a mix of communication, collaboration and confidence. This “connection tax” is what we’re all grappling with, and we believe there is a way forward…

We have developed a framework we’re calling the 4C’s of Video Conferencing: Communication, Collaboration, Confidence, and Connection

Where do we start?

In our audit—Video Conferencing Landscape (PDF) and Analysis (Miro)—of the current solutions, there are two approaches to executing video conferencing: one that embraces the 2D pane of glass and making it a part of our standard computer desktop. The other is through more transformative experiences such as augmented, mixed, and virtual reality. Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, with interesting optimizations inherent to both.

We will break down how each component helps or hinders human connection and, just perhaps, push the medium well beyond a poor facsimile of IRL.

Staying in touch these days, video is now the go-to medium. A massive spectrum from catching up with friends, to weddings, run of the mill work meetings, and essentials like tele-health and remote learning. While our physical selves are locked up, our social and emotional selves are looking for human contact. As useful as video is, there are limitations and pitfalls due to how video products have been designed and built.

We’ll cover a few startups pushing into more creative formats, either breaking out of the rectangle application window, or into AR/MR/VR. These are still novelty, not ready for primetime and we would even argue still lack a fundamental compass point. As you read this, there are countless hours and billions of dollars being invested in video not the least being Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.

If the tagline of COVID-19 life is “Together Apart” how successful is video actually making us feel connected?

So for all that video technology and investment has provided us so far, it can be far better. We’re looking to strip everything down to video’s primary components and argue that even the most successful solutions are at best only considering one or two and entirely missing the most important.

While individually significant, the interplay between them can reinforce how we all can truly come together while being physically apart. Communication starts from the simple loop of informing and understanding, then deepens into authentic self-expression. Collaboration starts with contribution of ideas and moves into real-time processing with a collective presence of mind. Confidence relates to doing both of those things assuredly with a sense of safety, that fosters an openness to ultimately... Connect. Connection is what results from enabling all three components.

This the first of a five part series that will go deep into each of the 4Cs, how they fit together, and help form genuine bonds amongst us. The bulk of this report was created by Sean Jalleh, Maggie Feuchter, and Vivian Lee.

Read on for highlights of each of The Four Cs.

Communication

We’ve all run across the difficulties of feeling confident in a video session when you run into audio interference, unexpected background noise, or the ultimate: speaking incredibly profoundly only to then realize you are on mute. Non-verbally, cameras in a standard set up masks most of our body language cutting off our full expression. What is captured skews our interpretation of what’s being expressed due to the lack of gaze awareness. Some approaches are leaning into digital to better simulate the critical combination of verbal and non-verbal communication. One specific example morphs you into animated avatars, letting our cartoon proxies convey some nuance of emotion and delivery. By taking yourself into a VR space, Facebook is using headsets to create super realistic representations to stand in for ourselves. Uncanny. We’ll continue to challenge products that overemphasize replication of physical attributes, in Part Two!

Collaboration

Collaboration is “working together.” People contribute, respond, and then move forward by remixing all that together into a new whole. Generally speaking, how much out there is actually facilitating that process? In video conferencing, sometimes that is offered as digital drawings and features, like chat, added in. It can be argued these additions are poor band aids and just another mode of communication to choose from. Some newer products are looking to recreate the spatial sensibilities missing in a remote work set up by illustrating your physical space better for others to see using 360 degree cameras, or replicating physical space via screens mounted on the wall. A novel approach layers in your image with personalized backgrounds, graphics, and presentations, mimicking a TV host format that has your audience feel more engaged. In Part Three, we’ll dive into the challenges of using multiple point solutions to cobble together collaboration and where the map of opportunities lie.

Confidence

The foundation to communication and collaboration is how confident we are—personally and in our technology and security. Compliance often comes with restrictions in the user experience, trading off the other C’s. And for products that are more friction-free they have proven to be less secure. No one wants to be meme’ed. While privacy and security are auditable and necessary, confidence comes from two more obvious angles: how does one feel and is the tool protecting you, and is the technology and internet reliable. We’ll learn more in Part Four.

Connection

For all the digital communication channels—virtual whiteboards, chat, audio, or video: why so many point solutions, and why does video feel so lacking? What isn’t being satisfied?

Our working theory is because none of these products and solutions have focused on connecting us as people. Connection is emergent from all people involved being present, authentic, open, kind, and trusting and we’re excited to share more in Part Five.

The Vision for Video

We are compelled in this new world we live in, re-think and challenge our communication tools, video being the most necessary. Be it within the rectangle pane of glass, or through AR/MR/VR—can they connect us more humanely?

Many of us literally see in to each other’s lives every time we take a work meeting, in that we are unavoidably intimately connected more than ever before. Can we leverage this unique opportunity we have now to bolster deeper connection? Can we use this focus on connection to span our divides across cities and states, bridging our own country and the world, to uniting us beyond borders and even societies?

We are interested in diving deep into ways to best connect while remote during this pivotal time. If you work in video or any form of digital communication, we would jump at the opportunity to help.


Links & Resources

This report was generated from ~100 hours of desk research, insights, and design by Sean Jalleh, Maggie Feuchter, and Vivian Lee. Directed by Nathan Kendrick and Audrey Crane.

As always, we're here to help

DesignMap is in the fortunate position to be of help to companies during this challenging time. We are working overtime with our current clients to build nimble-yet-steady capabilities. DesignMap is always available. It is our most sincere hope that as many companies as possible—small and large—are able to weather these choppy waters.

  • Project-based Teams with User Research, UX and UI Design disciplines. 
  • Staff Augmentation, highly trained and experienced designers who work side-by-side integrated in your team.
  • Coaching and Advisement, the Partners have 20 years of industry experience. 
  • UX Training and Workshops, designed for the multi-discipline team we have content tailored to executives, product managers, designers, and engineers.

We're working with clients like Atlassian, Asana, and RingCentral with these services designed for business continuity.

—Audrey, Chuck, Greg, and Nathan

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