Project Overview
Virtual collaboration is becoming more and more common, partly due to the global pandemic that started in 2019. However, the innovation processes in the scope of collaboration could not anticipate this sudden influx of virtual work practices. Remote collaboration is now serving as a substitution for co-located collaboration. This has revealed new challenges such as lack of interpersonal connection, lack of passion for work, and lower levels of engagement and motivation. These newly exposed needs made us wonder what remote collaboration could look like if we design with the end goal of creating these magical feelings, these feelings of human magic.
November 2020
4 Weeks Execution Time
Professional Product Project
Umeå Institute of Design
   Linda - MFA Interaction Design
   Alexander - MFA Interaction Design
   Ruoyun - MFA Interaction Design
What is human magic?
1. Engagement: the feeling of having everyone fully engaged in the same thing
2. Passion: togetherness that triggers the ignition of passion in people
3. Energy: the sensation of a common energy of all people in a room
Project Goals

bringing people together that are currently geographically separated


allowing the passion to boost intrinsic motivation


being able to contribute to bringing back the joy to people’s work life

This was a project in collaboration with the company Konftel, an international company that develops teleconferencing solutions. In collaboration with them, we were asked to explore how we could (re)design audio/video interactions for distributed work practices in ways that enable professionals to bring the best of themselves and their skill sets into play.
Remote work is possible, but it’s just not the same. Something is… missing.
Once this challenge was set, we got to work. The first step in our process was ethnographic research. We needed to understand what the experience of distributed work looks like for working professionals.

What stood out to us was that when we proposed the question ‘but what are you really missing in remote collaboration?’ there was usually a brief silence. Formulating an answer to this specific question was a challenge in itself. After ample consideration the answers vaguely described a feeling they were missing, a sensation that occurs when people work together. A feeling of magic.

This became the focus point for this project. We coined the term human magic as a descriptive, but also fluid definition, of this sensation people were missing. This term helped us make this sensation conversational. It allowed us to understand what this sensation is and what we could do to bring it back to people’s lives.
Towards an understanding
How can we convey the experience of human magic to others?
How can we capture this feeling?
it quickly became apparent that the only way we could truly make people understand how powerful this sensation is, was to make them feel it. Experiencing this magical sensation of togetherness.

One of the ways we brought this experience to life was by creating an experience video. In this video we attempted to capture the feeling of human magic. We used the video to make people feel what human magic can be. The video helped us communicate to our clients and other people what we were striving for.

The experience
From this point we decided to dive even deeper into the concept of human magic. By sharing personal stories about our experience of human interactions, we unpacked what human magic means for us personally.

Diving deeper
I realized that by looking you in the eye, I make myself vulnerable and trust you to read my emotions on my face.

When I feel engaged with my teammates, I move my body towards theirs, and the twinkle I can see in their eye makes me feel the passion that burns within them.
This unpacking process brought us to a key insight. We rely heavily upon our senses when interacting with people and it is exactly these senses that are limited by remote collaboration. Through experience prototyping we explored what factors were most limiting to our sensory experiences over distance, and how we could enable the experience of human magic again.

Video frame
The common landscape-orientation of a screen seemed to limit what is visible to the other person. Currently, body language is often limited or not conveyed at all. By changing the rotation of the screen to a portrait-orientation, this could be improved.

Eye contact
Because of the current hardware we use for remote communication, the camera is not in a location that allows for natural eye-contact. We believe the camera should be at eye level. With technology that is currently under development, eye-contact can soon be reintroduced.

Conversational Acts
Due to the often singular directionality of video and audio sources in a video conference (i.e. all video participants being displayed on a single screen), the natural flow of conversation is disrupted. Conversational acts like mutual gaze and head-turning are non-existent, and it is difficult to perceive the position of a person in space.

To bring this to life even more and propose a possible suggestion for the future of the product line of our client Konftel, we combined these three insights into a design concept. We envisioned a system that could allow small teams to collaborate in a natural, immersive way. Through exploration, we investigated how we could allow people to communicate just like they would be able to in real life.

Concept and concept communication
We imagine that actual eye contact could and should become the new norm in online communication.

To allow us to express ourselves, the frame we are locked in should not cut off our body language.

We should be able to physically come closer to people again in conversations to allow for the intimacy people are missing.

We envision we can bring back the value of the direction of in and output collaboration. Separating audio by using spatial audio sources will allow us to make sense of the conversation. The way it naturally happens.

Remote collaboration should allow for conversations to flow, in stead of being disruptive.

We presented this to our client in combination with a possible step-by-step implementation plan. This way we could help guide our client towards implementing the vision we propose, slowly, in a more manageable way. The first steps would only require small changes.

Making change is not easy, but taking small steps is.
Step 1
By creating a video and audio bar instead of a single input and output stream we can allow teams members to connect in a more natural way.

Step 2
By splitting up the locations of ‘work’ (i.e. laptop or desktop) and ‘communication’ on a separate screen, we create a more natural way of working. Additionally, video is taken from further away, capturing more of your body and immersion in communication is not muddled by distractions from one’s computer.

Step 3
Then in the next stage is where our vision can be truly enforced. The desk would no longer merely be a place where work gets pushed out. Rather a place that makes us feel connected, immersed and together with our teammates. SHARING a digital space can be as MAGICAL as sharing a physical one.

Step 4
We imagine this may raise questions for the future, what if there are no screens anymore in the future? Can this same vision be applied to a more portable solution? We believe that wherever the future takes us, the mindset shift towards reigniting human magic in remote collaboration can be enforced in various ways.

In the end the main goal of this concept was to make people rethink what remote collaboration should be like, what we should be designing for. The concept we propose is merely an example of what ‘designing for human magic’ could be like.

Main goal of the project
So, do you believe in (human) magic?
This was my first real interaction design project. It was challenging to change my focus to designing experiences rather than products, but I fully enjoyed the challenge. Our group decided from the beginning that we wanted to explore what designing for experiences would be like, and this common goal was such a blessing. This project formed a great introduction to interaction design for me and got me fully excited for what I could do in the future as an interaction designer.

Doing is so much more powerful than thinking.
One of the greatest insights this approach has given me is how valuable it is to bring your ideas to life as soon as possible. We hit a wall halfway through this project. However, when we put everything aside and just started to bodystorm and experiment rather than using our brains, creativity and excitement came rushing back. 

As for my role in this team, I feel this project has helped me grow as a professional. I have been able to strengthen my capabilities to guide the flow of group work and to keep everyone on track. I find it important to manage our time and remain efficient, without limiting any kind of creative processes that need to happen. Furthermore, I think that the way I was able to verbalize the directions we were (and needed to be) heading, has helped our team stay focused. I did everything in my power to get everyone on the same page, which I feel allowed the team to push through the rough patches.

Being a good team player is something we should all be working on, all the time.
One thing I have learned is that I still find it challenging to collaborate with people with very different cultural backgrounds. I strive to always do my best to understand the people I work with and adapt my ways of working to theirs for the optimal collaboration, but when the cultural/personality differences are very large I struggle in this process and I want to become better at dealing with situations like these.