Skype wanted to encourage users to use it for more than just the weekly calls with family and friends. Activities such as playing a game, planning a trip, and shopping were found by user research to easily complement a Skype conversation. This was largely an exploration project to examine the value these types of activities might bring to Skype conversations. The hypothesis was that activities would facilitate richer interactions between the users, thus allowing them to connect with each other in meaningful ways.
The business goal was to explore the concept of using activities to increase the engagement of Skype conversations, as measured by the length and frequency of these conversations. The output of the project was a well-developed set of scenarios that could be used to get support from the leadership team. From the UX perspective, the goal was to establish an interaction framework that could support multiple activity types.
I worked with another interaction designer and a visual designer to explore rich interactions and activities users could share during a Skype conversation. The types of activities we explored were mostly driven by the PMs. We worked closely with them and the marketing team to develop user scenarios with business potential. I also participated in prototyping and user testing a specific activity.
We spent most of our time developing the concept of activities for this exploration project. There was a lot of learning through the process of envisioning the scenarios. Based on the insights gained, we established an interaction framework that could be applied to any type of Skype activity.
Creating a proof of concept
Working closely with the PM driving this project, I collaborated with a visual designer to mock up some scenarios that demonstrate the value of activities within Skype. We focused on entertainment-related activities such as watching TV together and playing a game of poker. This specific category of activity was selected because of existing interest from potential business partners. We also made a point to show interactions across multiple platforms. This proof of concept was important for getting support from the leadership team.
The following scenario demonstrates how a TV show can use Skype to connect with a large viewer base, thus making watching the show a more interactive experience. As mentioned earlier, we developed this scenario in response to a potential business opportunity.
Ann, Wendy, and Jenny are American Idol fans. They are chatting over Skype right before the show. Since Ann is still on the train, Jenny and Wendy keep her updated on the show over their group chat.
American Idol has developed a number of activities to engage those viewers who watch TV together over Skype. There is a polling activity that runs during each episode to encourage viewer participation. The 3 friends decide to put in their votes. Meanwhile, the show displays live poll results on TV.
While we were gaining a lot of momentum around developing Skype activities, we had an opportunity to leverage a 3rd party technology to implement a shopping experience in Skype. As a result, I worked with an engineer and a visual designer to create a prototype that demonstrated how users might be able to shop online together while seeing each other virtually trying on products over Skype. I collaborated with a researcher to use this prototype in testing the activity concept on 7 pairs of users. We collected a lot of positive feedback on the shopping experience as the users mostly enjoyed the new interactions around the activity. They reported that the activity made the conversation more fun and engaging. They also felt that the reward from the activity - buying a product with the help of a friend - would likely keep them coming back. The negative feedback we received were mostly regarding the reliability of the virtual try-on technology.
Developing a framework
Based on the learnings from developing the aforementioned scenarios, I worked closely with another designer to establish a framework for activities across multiple platforms. The following are some examples.
Discover or browse activities
Join an activity
Initiate an activity within a conversation
Switching task during an activity