Redesigning WhatsApp to solve hurtful affective health

Jamie Street (@jamie452), iPhone X and WhatsApp, Unsplash. URL: https://unsplash.com/photos/33oxtOMk6Ac

WhatsApp is used by more than one billion people in more than 180 countries to stay in touch with friends and family, wherever they are at any time. It started as an alternative to SMS: it’s free and offers simple, reliable and available communication on phones all over the world.

Instant communication services have evolved a lot over the last years, which have allowed us to multiply the connections between people. However, this has forced us to communicate by text messages, setting aside other important elements like emotional reactions. That is why these apps are becoming one of the biggest sources of stress, anger, and conflict for couples, friends and family relationships. It is proved that many problems cannot be solved via WhatsApp, because most of the times it is the channel that hinders the understanding between people. Users of these apps are suffering endless arguments, negative interpretations of messages and checking each time if the person who they’re talking with is online or not, taking the non-answering as insufficient interest.

The main problem of WhatsApp is when we use it we lose 93% of communication. In daily life, most of the times we’re not using verbal communication; instead of it, we express ourselves with non-verbal communication like looks, gestures, tones and volumes and when you look at it in perspective, you see you are losing a significant part of it when you’re using WhatsApp. So we decided we don’t want to lose everything we can imagine and do in an app. That is why we decided to improve non-verbal communication as it is not well resolved or it will be necessary to remove WhatsApp from our mobiles.

How can we bring users closer and help them emphasize through non-verbal communication in WhatsApp?

It may possibly be easier to express ourselves through WhatsApp those things you wouldn’t say face to face. But this is a double-edged sword because as we transmit positive things we can do it otherwise. What we want to try is to have a communication through an app in the most real and human way possible. We want to have an app that can be a generator of positive emotions through effective expressions, having a sense of humor, joy and, hope.

1. Analysis of the need

We started from the observation it is difficult to transcribe emotions and reactions through the WhatsApp application, as it uses mostly text messages. Currently, we can also exchange photos, links, documents, location and voice recording. These are probably the most effective way to share emotions for the following reasons: the voice is unique to everyone, it helps make the message more personal and we perceive the tone that indicates the mood of the transmitter. There is also the flow, the pitch of voice, the silences… which also participate. Even so, there is not yet a functionality that allows the user to detect and understand exactly the emotion with which the transmitter issues a message.

1.1 Users and Target

Our product is developed for people between the ages of 18 and 30. For many years, applications like Snapchat or Messenger have used the consumer to take a picture and share selfies with his or her friends. Our goal is to provide a tool that reflects an ephemeral but funny emotion. Our problematic is part of an improvement process of an already existing product. What we want is to help our target to communicate their feelings more easily and what we thought is that this group is familiarized with chatting applications and other communication networks. Thus, they’re more in a position to repel the limits and to be open to novelty as animojis that mix visual recognition and voice recording. For this age group, the chat has taken an important part of their daily communication. It is a generation that writes less than the last ones, but who “communicates” more. So they’re always looking for the novelty to add sensitivity to the text. We think “animoji” responds to a real need for this generation while adding a playful accessory to WhatsApp application.

First outline and notes I
First outline and notes II

2. Proposals around these observations

In first, we all worked individually by showing different ideas that could solve the problem. We started designing the chat screen thinking that each user would send an avatar recording voice and facial expressions. We kept in mind certain things including whether to use the scroll option, a confirmation banner before sending the message, a quick answer like “I will answer you later” or tags, reactions or transcription to recognize what each emoji says (like voice messages that you never know what they’ll say until you open them).

“Animoji Studio lets you record Animoji videos outside of Messages”, by Tory Foulk (imore.com) (15 Nov 2017) URL: https://www.imore.com/awesome-app-lets-you-record-animoji-videos-outside-imessage
First examples of proposals

3. Final proposal

We’ve decided to focus on the chat screen by using Emoji Avatars, because being in front of the other makes you empathize more easily with them and thos functionality shares similarities with the reality. Also, you can modulate your message by seeing how your interlocutor is receiving the message at the same time you tell them. We downloaded some WhatsApp templates for Sketch to start designing our new proposal for iPhone X.

We have made some proposals that manage to add some emotional reactions in the application through animoji, a functionality originally intended for Apple text messages. Like voice recordings, it is about recording your voice but also facial expressions through visual recognition of the camera scan. An animal avatar, having our voice and our expressions can then be shared in the conversation. This tool personalizes our messages and allows the user to chat with their friends without being as bland as text, despite the existence of emojis that can help us add a little feeling partially since he or she only keeps an illustration function.

3.1 Different steps: Chat, Record

This new WhatsApp feature requires several representations depending on the context. Reception, opening, reading, recording… This new functionality must be as intuitive as possible for the user to interact with it. For example, when the conversation screen is already opened, it is really fast to access the functionality, the same as text, voice recording, calling among other functionalities. When users tap the “animoji” functionality, the facial camera scan starts. Our face bones are always in movement so our Animoji won’t be quiet at any time. The same will happen with our voice and the movement of our mouth when speaking. The user will automatically interpret the animoji is imitating their facial movements as a mime. It is possible to sing, to laugh, to frown and to record it. Once the user has recorded his/her animoji message, she/he can see it again, save it and share it in the current chat.

3.2 Testing the app with real users

After checking the little development WhatsApp offers in the field of non-verbal communication, the new functionality has been shown to users who regularly use the application.

Final questions

  1. How often do you doubt the tone used by your interlocutor or misunderstand his or her message?
  2. After a first look, is it clear to you what the purpose of this new functionality is?
  3. Compared to current options, do you think you understand the other person better?
  4. Do you think the new concept proposed can derive in fun rather of empathy with the other person?
  5. In the long term, would this new function help you communicate more effectively?

We’ve managed to check that most of the users tend to misunderstand the messages, although many are aware of this and that prevents the users involved from coming into conflict. Thus, after a first contact, we concluded that more than 50% of those tested easily understood the functionality that was proposed and didn’t doubt of its veracity. However, 20% perceived that it was a non-real prototype and didn’t understand our main intention.

We see that the tendency to think that this function improves non-verbal communication coincides with the profile of the users who recognized the problem and understood its main objective.

As we already know, the main intention was to formalize the message in a neutral tone -giving way to the user to add the emotion itself- and get an empathy among the ordinary users of WhatsApp. Even so, the fact of using “animojis” -animals and mythological or fantastic characters- provoked that 58'3% of users surveyed considered the new concept could derive more towards fun, an approach that we question in the initial processes of the project. Due to this, in a conflictive situation or in which the received message is misunderstood, this functionality would not be used and it would not fulfill its objective. That is why we should rethink the use of “animojis” and find another formalization that helps users become closer in any situation, since it has been proven that 91.7% of long-term respondents would improve the quality of their communication.

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