Understanding digital experience through use

We've found the best way to understand the digital experiences we have been prototyping in apps for our participants is by also using them ourselves.

After developing and testing our Where do you go to? desk capturing and sharing app at the BBC Media City, we have been usings it within our own Creative Exchange team. Bridget, Claire and I have been using the app to share our daily desks – getting a feel for how visualising our workpatterns brings us together through a digital sense of team workplace.

We wanted visitors to the 2013 CX Showcase (27th September, MediaCityUK) to also have the experience of using the app to capture and share desk images, in the brief time they have to see the work. To solve this problem we built a number of minature workplace tabletop 'scenes' and provided several networked devices running the app so that people could try out the usability experience.

Here are the 'project facts' from the showcase:

1. What is the project about?
Sharing images of desks and workspaces as a non-intrusive way of staying connected in teams including freelancers, commuters and distant collaborators.

2. Where do you think it could lead? What difference might it make?
Walking past someone's desk gives a feeling of what the owner is working on, their state of mind and even a sense of their identity. Extending this digitally aims to sustain group belonging despite changing work routines.

3. Please choose 3 keywords to define the domain for the project.
Freelance, Future offices, Collaborations

4. Please choose 3 keywords to identify the research focus of the project.
User research, Software development, Services

5. How does the project relate to the idea of Digital Public Space?
The resources of the Digital Public Space allow on-the-move and distant collaborators to connect with some of the richness of a shared office, workshop or lab.

6. Where is the novelty in the project? What are you investigating or doing that hasn’t been done before?
Connectedness research has tended to either make people feel like they are performing to camera face-on, or to subtly connected objects. Our approach is to take the subtlety of the desk space and the performance of taking the photo to explore a balance of these two approaches.

7. Broadly speaking, what have you been doing in the project so far (or what is the plan)?
We made an app that takes photos and displays the workspace image each team member has shared, and have tested this prototype with a group of collaborators at the BBC. We ran a workshop beforehand to design the app and are now interviewing those who tried it.

8. What technologies does the project make use of?
Mobile apps (Cordova), Mobile devices (Android), Photography, Networking (Javascript, PHP)

9. Across the project team, what skills are being drawn upon in the project?
Prototyping, Web development, Design workshop facilitation, Workplace ethnography, Office design.

10. What will the project produce in the end?
We hope to analyse the effectiveness of workspace sharing as a means of fostering connectedness in geographically distant collaborating teams. If possible our prototype app will be released as an opensource resource for further development.

11. With more time/money/other resources, what would be the ideal outcome for the project team?
Our app allows sharing in one collaborating team. In reality, most people are working in several collaborations at once, and it would be great to allow this. However designing sharing control for multiple groups is a hard problem as the complexity of Google Circles and Facebook Sharing demonstrates.