Research | Visual Design | Service Design | Intern Project
I had the opportunity to work as a Visual Design intern at Cooper. I worked on different client projects, different internal projects, and this intern project, presented here, with a fellow student from CMU, Joe Kappes, who was interning as an Interaction Designer. Cooper structures its work by pairing interaction designers with visual designers, so it was a natural fit for the two of us to work together on a project of our own to present to the company at the end of the summer.
We were invited to investigate anything we wanted, which was more daunting than being assigned a specific task. Joe has a background in writing and human interaction. I have a background in behavioral psychology and decision sciences. Recognizing we had a common interest in analyzing how people interact with each other, we decided to focus on developing design solutions for social behaviors we noticed within the company itself.
We came up with Call for Conversations; an efficient and practical method to help transition back-channel conversations into the mainstream.
It made an impression on Joe and me that most conversations at Cooper happen digitally. Cooper uses the Slack application for casual conversations, design conversations, tech conversations, personal interests and hobbies, and even calling in sick. We noticed that messages regarding different levels of importance and ranges of topics were funneled through the same ephemeral vehicle. Many potentially interesting conversations got lost through the sheer volume of links, articles, .gifs and news within the Slack channels. Others received quick comments that would be buried under newer interesting links or questions. Joe and I wanted to know why some of these interesting topics weren’t being held outside of the Slack channel, or out from behind our desks.
- We led informal discussions and conversations with individuals that led to framing our topic
- We created and conducted a survey, sent out to everyone in the company, to collect information about their feelings on the subject. We believed employees would feel less “put on the spot” with a survey
- We held follow-up interviews with those who were willing to help us fill in the gaps from the survey
We established that employees indeed wished to pursue discussions outside of Slack, especially in the following areas:
- Company transparency and communication (top down)
- Feedback (of work on projects)
- Talent retention
- Design process and project scoping
- Cooper’s direction and strategy (long term goals)
Why weren’t these conversations happening??
- “we’re damn busy”
- “we have great culture” (everyone is too nice, doesn’t like confrontation)
- “we don’t always feel that we have permission to start these kinds of conversations”
- “…and we don’t always know to whom we should bring these questions to”
- "we’re more comfortable with back-channel conversations (online)"
To clearly offer a means in contrast to digital communication, we wanted to create a durable, tangible vehicle employees could use to encourage person to person discussions. We created a playful twist on the calling card. On a Call4Convo card, employees are invited to address issues they wish to explore. Through many whiteboards and brainstorm sessions, Joe and I came up with this system.
Our solution in practice:
- ask people in person and publicize it on slack in the Call4Convo channel
- recommend an offline discussion you already see happening on Slack using the hashtag #call4convo
- put up the Call4Conversation card and have a conversation when it’s convenient for you and others. (lunch time? end of day with a drink? in passing?)
- distill any interesting ideas from the conversation onto the card
- decide if you or anyone wants to/ can take future action
- attach it to the ring with other conversations, and hang it for anyone to look through in the future
We gave our presentation to the entire company at our last staff meeting as interns. The project was well-received. The company was willing to implement the calling card system to see where it would take them.
Why this system will be awesome:
- it provides Cooper a cultural practice around person to person, front-channel conversations
- the Call4convos system requires very little extra time of its participants
- the cards keep a casual, physical record of what was being discussed, much like a physical photo album lets people tangibly reflect upon prior events versus scrolling through your camera roll or iPhoto
- it offers a richer conversational platform from a digital into a physical space, with a seamless and comfortable transition from one to the other
- it empowers the employees to move from the fearful question “do I want to bring this up” to “do we want to have a conversation about this"
Below are my initial visual design sketches and iterations to try to find the right volume and voice for this deliverable:
- Introducing a new method of communication to one of the most successful Communication Design firms in the country from an internship status and with limited knowledge of how the company operates.
- Creating a communication system without being experts on communication consulting practices or in implementation of such practices.
- Time for both conducting our research and as a goal of our design.
a) We needed to create efficient research tools in order to gather information from the employees without intruding too much on their time.
b) Come up with a communication system that does not sacrifice precious work time in the office.