Virtual Tools for Human Centered Design in South Asia

Intention

Prabina Shrestha
Aug 6, 2020 · 7 min read

Cue recently launched a Community of Practice for Design Thinking practitioners, facilitators and enthusiasts in Nepal to share and learn about their experiences with the process. The first meeting explored using virtual tools for human centered design (HCD).

We tested with our peers what, in our experience, has been the most intuitive and practical combination of tools to use. Here, we are sharing what we have learned so far works best in the context of Nepal, and likely applicable to most of South Asia.

If there are any tools missing or experiences that deserve highlighting, please share in the comments or feel free to reach out to us directly. We are always eager to learn.

What sets this region apart?

Internet access
Not all locations in the region have strong internet connections and bandwidth. For true participatory approaches in HCD, we have to ensure that all members of the team are able to access the tools and resources used virtually. It was important for us to identify the simplest and the most intuitive (easily relatable to our non-virtual ways of working) options for video/audio conferencing and collaborative design.

Technological literacy
Over the last few months of working remotely, we have noticed that professionals in the region have varying levels of comfort with technology, especially in terms of willingness to try out and adopt new softwares and platforms. We have been on the lookout for inclusive and accessible platforms, and easy for those with very little comfort with their computers to use.

Collaboration experience
HCD has only recently emerged and been adopted as a credible process in Nepal. Professionals across multiple sectors still refrain from exploring and using it due to its novelty and a general low-risk appetite, particularly within the private sector. Collaboration activities in teams, on the other hand, is also a newly growing practice. With this in mind, it’s key to recognize that certain groups take longer than others to adopt the tools that accompany the process and its mindsets.

Why virtual tools?

As we pivoted from physical to virtual meetings, we experienced a global shift in working styles. In our work with HCD, Cue has been experimenting with and adapting to the changing workplace definitions, mechanisms and scenarios, to ensure our team-based and public-facing work could continue unabated.

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Here’s what we have learned:

As you likely well know, Zoom leaped into the global vernacular during the COVID-19 pandemic as the go-to video conferencing tool for everything from meetings to workout classes, and many more. We have found it to offer the most flexibility and tailored services for our team’s needs.

Features:

Scheduling calls, dial-in phone number, recording, chat room and screen share options are available even on the free service plan. For the free service plan zoom offers global video meetings for up to 1,000 participants and unlimited one on one meetings. However, it limits group sessions to 40 minutes and 100 participants.

The paid plan offers several other features such as breakout rooms, white board and polls

Design Sessions:

For the design sessions we have been conducting on zoom, the breakout room feature has been very convenient as it allows for different discussions to run in parallel without having to switch platforms. we are able to split the group into smaller ones and assign each of the smaller groups a separate room. The groups can then come back to the main room for a plenary debrief.

The host is able to switch between all the rooms and a pre-assigned co-host can even record their breakout room discussions. The white board feature (digital whiteboard) and the screen share option comes in handy for the host to facilitate the sessions.

The chat box feature allows for separate channels for discussion or information sharing while a session is running in the plenary. Similarly the polls feature can is a great tool to gather quick information/feedback as the zoom event/meeting is running.

Limitations and challenges:

With the breakout rooms, we have experienced that participants with low bandwidth internet experience glitches for both audio and video. A hack here could be to have those participants remain in the plenary . Also, only the host is able to write on the whiteboard, limiting the co-creating options.

Security threats:

Along with its gaining popularity Zoom also faced problems with hacked meetings. They have since added a slew of security measures such as password features and enabling the host to remove participants.

Google meet is another video conferencing tool we have been using for our meetings. While it’s only accessible to google suite account holders, external guests are able to join via a shared link.

Features:

Google meet offers chat box and screen sharing options in addition to video conferencing. Unlike in zoom where only the host can start a meeting and has to let all the participants in, in google meet anyone with the meeting link can start the meeting.

Design sessions:

With it’s easy usability and simple features Google meets is a great tool for video conferencing, however it has to be paired up with other co- creating tools for designing sessions.

Limitations and challenges:

On our calls on Meet we have experienced glitches in the audio especially when the video is turned on. We also experience quite a lot of audio feedback on google meet requiring all non-speaking participants to mute themselves at all times.

Tools for Collaboration

Jam board is the first virtual tool we started to use for co-creation. It is free of cost for G suite account users and offers a 14 day free trial. You are able to share the link with a non G suite account holder who will be able to use the board.

Features:

This one is very easy to navigate and has the required basic features for a digital white board such as the sticky notes, writing tools — pens, eraser, laser for highlighting. We are also able to upload images on the boards. There’s also a feature for creating multiple frames within the same jam/ file. This tool has options for saving the file as a PDF or image.

Design sessions:

The simplicity of use for this tool makes it a great entree for people resistant to transition to virtual tools. Being a virtual whiteboard we can do co-creating as with a physical whiteboard. The stickies come in multiple colors allowing the facilitator to assign different colors to different participants which make it easier for them to track their stickies.

Limitations and challenges:

Much of the ease in use for this tool comes from it’s limited features, which makes it easier for brain dumps or quick, light touch design sessions.

However as the no. of participants increases and as the sessions get more intricate and advanced this tool will have its limits. It’s limited space for a single frame also means limited working space for a larger group.

The second tool we have been using is Mural. Mural is a great real time digital whiteboard with more advanced features.The app is not available for free, but it does have a free trial session.

Features:

Mural has a variety of useful key features such as sticky notes, frames, options for adding files, images, icons. Mural also provides a number of pre-designed templates to start from such as a business canvass which makes the process easier. The whiteboard space for Mural is unlimited. Two fantastic tools for facilitation are the voting and the timer option.

Design sessions:

To host a design session a facilitator can share the “share links” generated by the board with the participants. It also has an option for an anonymous link which lets the participant join in without having to create a mural account. The facilitator can easily set up the board’s pre-design session by either using one of the templates offered or creating their own.

The participants can easily co-create through the offered features. The facilitator can summon the participants by bringing all of them to where their cursor is at making it easy for them to highlight the items and steps.

With the voting feature the facilitator is able to allocate no. of votes and time the voting session. The results are visible to all. The facilitator can also use the Timer feature to time box tasks.

Limitations and challenges:

Although great for collaboration, this tool isn’t without its glitches. For one of our sessions, participants faced frozen screens (not being able to close applications) and also weren’t able to get back to the board after closing it.

The anonymous link which mural produces for users without a mural account turned out to be problematic as participants weren’t able to log in and were asked to create a new account.

Miro is an extremely helpful tool for virtual HCD practices. As we are slowly shifting to using Miro, we are beginning to explore its many features.

Features:

Miro shares almost all the features with Mural and has many additional cool features. It allows us to Upload PDF & excel files and we are able to scroll through the pages on the Miro Board. The Sticky capture recognizes stickies from an image file and converts them to Miro stickies.

KanBan features are good for assigning tasks. Miro also offers a Video chat feature for pro accounts, which results in more real time collaboration.

Designing sessions:

Similar to Mural, the facilitator can create the board beforehand and can share the share link with participants. Miro gives us options for choosing the extent of access the link user will have with the board which ranges from only being able to view to edit.

With its many features co-creation can range from simple collaborations to even complicated maps and processes.

Limitations and challenges:

With its multiple features Miro runs the risk of intimidating hesitant users, as it was the case with some members in our team. However, as we continue to use it for both co-creation and our daily tasks, we are learning about it’s features and trying to integrate them into our works.

Best Combinations

With our experience in their usage, it can be said that two tools that consume the most internet bandwidth would not be a good combination. Zoom and Mural are great tools on their own but can create a few glitches when used together. Once used for an extended period of time, we also find the Mural interface slows down quite a bit.

As ideal combinations, we recommend using zoom for its audio, and Mural and Miro for the collaborative features.

Cue Studio

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