Featured on the Soundry blog. 

OVERVIEW:  CoTalk facilitates presence and informal communication through a shared audio space to connect people working across different locations. 

RESEARCH

Our user research gave us insight into the critical parts of communication that people who usually share the same workspace use for both social and professional needs. Small indications such as knowing when someone is in the office, where they are, and if they are available are unconscious and understood “statuses” in a shared office space that are lost once working remotely. These interactions are recaptured by using sound as a strength for seamless and continuous communication.

The primary use of audio not only allows for less on-screen toggling to use multiple communication channels, but it also is open to the high potential of exercising human understanding of space through sound.  Feeling part of a greater team is often important for people working independently, and the open audio channel provides a “studio” environment to share the same working ambience and atmosphere.

OPPORTUNITY IDENTIFICATION

As digital creative and communication tools continue to improve, working remotely has increased among independent creative professionals. Many work as collaborators, often with partners and clients around the world. As such, communication is highly important to maintain good work practices and networks. Currently, basic needs have been solved through communication channels such as email or voice chat.

However, these tools are still quite formal in nature and usually require direct intent to initiate contact. They do not readily allow for casual and spontaneous dialogue, where good ideas and inspiration are often generated. These casual interactions are important to the overall ideation and creative process, and with the rise of co-working spaces, the demand for a unified communication space for people working remotely could not be stronger.

 

Affordances for the selection rings were made through material changes - rubber for grippable areas, and smooth surfaces for the shell of the rest of the device. The user can push the device to turn it on and subsequently rotate the top green ring to select people in the network. They can then push toggle to make a direct closed communication channel connect the selected person. The thinner grey ring can be rotated to adjust the volume levels. The screen displays a simple and intuitive interface with people represented as circular dots distributed across time zones relevant to the user. 

CRAFT

CoTalk works on a simple push and rotate mechanism. We created a singular, portable device that could sit as a standalone object on a table but also blend into the workspace. The cylindrical form takes cues from many sound-based objects, where the use of knobs and dials to control volume and channels have become intuitive and fluid in interaction. We wanted a unified and integrated navigation through the same physical interactions for both volume and person selection. It was particularly important to place emphasis on simplicity but high usability for a small device. 

Components:  2 rotary encoders, 1 LCD screen, 3 SD card holders and 1 microswitch       

Technology: Arduino | MaxMSP

IMPACT

Co.Talk is lightweight, mobile and simple, using plug and play technology to power the device through the laptop or computer. To accommodate for different working scenarios, we created two modes: A single open channel of communication for large working groups with the ability to create direct channels for one-on-one conversations. This allows you to see who has signed on, where they are around the world, and their timezone.  

Alongside this primary role as a seamless and continuous audio channel, Co.Talk provides people with the niceties of a common workplace - morning greetings, daytime banter and spontaneous jokes. The focus on audio plays a particular role versus screen and text

 

based communication. Casual interactions such as the typical “water cooler” conversation, idea sharing and day-to-day problem solving are ever-present in work practices, but are increasingly difficult to have once working remotely. 

Responsiveness to sound allows for both spatial perception of a common working environment and to also hear the nuances in speech from colleagues that are lost in emails and more visual responses. By maintaining the informal but crucial, aspects of daily communication amongst people working together, workflows are able to stay efficient and optimised, while keeping work morale and team building intact.