IxD Final Project: Clarifying & Reworking the Skype App

Step 1: Intro & Review

Skype is a very commonly used app for both mobile and desktop that allows the user to call, video chat, and IM contacts. It most well known for video chat and its ability to connect people from all over the world together, especially since it was one of the first platforms to achieve this. Because it is an older platform, it has gone through many changes and updates, some of which were more successful than others. The current version of this app does perform well in quite a few areas as it does connect people and has plenty of flexibility when it comes to group chatting. As advertised, it gives the user ample ways to keep in contact with friends and family. However, I have found the app to be a bit confusing to use in several different ways which I will explain through the design hierarchy below.

Design Hierarchy

The Skype app is without a doubt functional. As a video chat app, the user needs to be able to add contacts and friends by username and then have a way to call them and be able to turn the video function on and off. It does have all of this and more.

In the realm of reliability, the app begins to go a bit downhill. Although some of this cannot be avoided due to poor wifi on one or both ends of the conversation, the user should not have to worry about the video feed constantly freezing, the audio cutting in and out, or the app flat out crashing. These problems can be a reliability error for the user because it is hard to rely on this inter connectivity if it is consistently having issues performing as it should.

As far as usability, the app generally meets some of the requirements but fails others. The usability is compromised by friction, unnecessary elements and a general confusion what you’re looking at. It gives you the information you need in a couple different navigation bars. One of them in a pancake menu on the left with a search bar on the right that hides a bunch of content including settings, profile information, friend invites, help and feedback, and the sign out button. This is kind of confusing because these pages seem to be a bunch of leftover options that don’t quite fit with each other. Also, it is generally bad usability for the user to click on a menu without knowing what is in it because the cannot perceive it. The other is a set of 3 icons fixed at the bottom of the view that include chats, calls, and contacts. This one is also a little strange because the chat view is a list of logs with your contacts that also logs calls, while the calls view simply shows you a list of your call history. Because the user is already able to see if they’ve made a call on the regular chat, having a call history as a primary action button just seems unnecessary. It also saves multiple states of the same group chats which is an interesting choice to say the least and a also waste of space.

For proficiency, the Skype App does include multiple search bars to make finding a particular group chat or contact easy and fast. Also it allows to you easily add/invite other people to your chats, even if you are already in a video chat with one or more people. These are nice features, but they are also pretty basic needs when it comes to what the app should have. Proficiency in general could have been pushed much further to improve the overall experience.

As far as the design, it appears clean and simplistic, and it stays pretty consistent in color and style. However, it is not very innovative and stays within a very basic layout that has been done again and again. It does not stand out, but instead meets expectations as far as what a video chat app should include visually.

UX Heuristics

Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing.

The first page after clicking sign in when you first open the app brings you to this Microsoft connection page that allows you to search your Skype name or email. This throws the user off because it is not consistent in the design or layout of the rest of the Skype pages. It seems like a very simple fix to just create a log in page that is consistent with the rest of the design. This occurs again when you go through the navigation to get to your account information. Because it isn’t consistent, it creates the feeling of an error that the user might have gotten navigate to the wrong place.

Accelerators — unseen by the novice user — may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.

Efficiency is compromised because the views and menu items are confusing in the sense that they are not perceivable or efficient. To summarize the usability issues I touched on above, the interaction is slowed down due to having to guess at where to go in order to find what you are looking for.

Step 2: Knowing the User

Mason, a primary user, uses the Skype app several times a week, if not every day. After getting a summer internship in California, he downloaded Skype to be able to keep in constant face-to-face contact with his girlfriend who lives back in Connecticut. Being a typical 21st century clingy couple, Mason and his girlfriend need to be in a conversation at all times. When they aren’t video chatting, they are definitely using the messaging system and sending tons of Skype’s animated emoticons back and forth. During their calls, they often run into trouble because his girlfriend’s voice or video feed with start to go in and out and Mason is no longer able to understand what she is saying. Many times during their video chats, Skype will crash altogether and show him a black screen. He begins to panic because worries about his girlfriend because he is forced to restart his phone to re-establish contact with her. For someone like Mason who relies on Skype for everyday relationship maintenance, he needs to be reassured that Skype will work reliably and correctly at all times.

Debbie, a secondary user, uses the Skype app every once in a while to keep in touch with her long distance family members. She struggles to use the newer features of the app and wishes it simpler to use. She dislikes that it seems to be slowing down her phone due to how much space it takes up. Debbie does not download many apps because she likes to keep her limited phone space for pictures of her kids. Despite these cons, she enjoys having a medium to be able to talk to her family that lives too far away to be able to see often. Because Debbie does not use Facebook, she finds it hard to connect with them and relies on Skype to experience these valuable moments. She only uses the video chat function of the app, and finds the messaging system and layout to be overly complicated for something that should be very simple. For someone like Debbie who has some trouble figuring out technology in general, trying to call her adorable little nieces and nephews should not be tainted by a stressful Skype experience.

  • As a user I can easily navigate between screens with little friction
  • As a new user I can make an account: create username, create password & confirm, link phone number and add email
  • As a returning user I can sign in: enter username and password, can send an email for a forgotten password
  • As a returning user I can add contacts: add by username, phone number or email, and option to connect phone contacts to search for other users of the app (auto-updating), able to delete contacts
  • As a returning user I can access my history
  • As a returning user I can make and accept video and voice calls: easily take or make a call from any of the main views, be able to add/delete others to the call, and be able to send messages while in a call
  • As a returning user I can search and sort my contacts and chat instances: sort by most recent or by most used contacts
  • As a returning user I can edit my account settings: change email, change & confirm new password, change/add a profile image, change phone number
  • As a returning user I can toggle/change my general settings: brightness, dark/light theme
  • As a returning user I can test and troubleshoot my microphone and webcam and be offered possible solutions for fixing bad quality video stream and audio
  • As a logged in user, I can log out
  • Sign up
  • Log in
  • Contacts/chat instances (home screen)
  • Account Settings
  • Settings: Fix video and microphone issues

Step 3: Map it out