Silicon Valley Business Catalyst Blog

Next-Generation Conference Room Phone Design Ideas

Posted by Grace Hu-Morley on Monday, July 6, 2009 Under: User Experience

Recently I interviewed for a product management position and was asked to put together a presentation on next-generation product design ideas for audio conference room phones. Since my presentation was market problem and user experience oriented, I thought I’d share my presentation with you. In a separate blog post, I will review what I did to build and pitch the presentation.

To keep the company anonymous, I’m going to call it Company X. However, before I go into the design ideas, let me provide a bit of background. Because I didn’t have access to all the information Company X had about the market data and problems, I had to present in a way that gave a small sample for the processes I normally use. These were the assumptions I used…
  1. Upfront market analysis and evaluation work had already been completed.

  2. Company X’s target market users and buyers’ problems were equivalent to my personal user experience and observations in using conference phones. (With the goal of supplementing my personal experiences, I sent out a message to my network through Twitter and Facebook asking my followers to comment on their experiences with conference phones. The result was that others had similar experiences to my own.)
Below were the market problems and new design ideas I presented.

First, I listed the conferencing problems and broke them out into two categories…
  1. Time Wasted to Initiate Call
      • Long power up times – phones have a long start-up time
      • Wire entanglement – the microphones, Ethernet cords, and power cords are getting tangled
      • Hijacked Ethernet cords – people use conference rooms for privacy and take the Ethernet cord out of the phones and use them for their computers
      • Usability of phone controls – setting up multiple line calls is confusing, dropping a phone line is impossible, calling via personal calendar is not possible
         2.  Poor Conference Experience
      • Don’t know who is speaking – in multi-party calls, it is difficult to know who is speaking or even which line the speaker is using.
      • Individual phone line quality issues – in multi-line calls, invariably there are phone lines that need volume adjustments or need to be dropped
    Both the time wasted to initiate calls and poor conference experience affect business productivity.

    To address the user problems (as opposed to addressing the buyer), I started with the basic wire management to help mitigate the slow power-up and productivity loss issues…
    1. Manage the microphones with one of two methods–
      • Wireless microphones with proximity sensors and location finder in case the users took the microphones out of the conference room or dropped the microphones.
      • Retractable microphone wires to reduce the amount of excess wire on the conference room tables.
          2.  Integrate Ethernet Switch/Hub so that computer users don’t have to “steal” the conference phone’s Ethernet connection

    Next, I addressed the ease-of-use and social connectivity problems by proposing an addition of a large touch-screen with a well-designed graphical interface.  These elements …
    1. Simplify conference management (joining calls, adding multiple lines to calls, releasing lines, etc.)

    2. Provide phone line or talker activity indicators

    3. Offer personal calendar access needed to initiate conference calls quickly without manual dialing
      • Access to personal calendars could be initiated with access codes or built-in readers for company badges
    Another proposal to address the social connectivity issues was to leverage unified communications via Smartphone integration. Callers with Smartphones can view phone line or talker activity, similar to what can be seen on the large touch-screen, and have automatic access to private chats between conference participants. The ability to initiate conferences directly from Smartphones also facilitates ease-of-use.

    I also provided a proposal that addressed the buyer.  To motivate buyers, products need to provide enough value—or address customer pain points—as well appeal emotionally. So, in addition to the added value of increased productivity and lowered frustration levels, my last proposal was to provide a “got to have it” industrial design. The design must entice executives to press their IT departments into purchasing the new phones for multiple conference rooms. Currently most conference phones look very much alike. A large touch-screen provides the perfect opportunity to change the look and first mover advantage.

    In my presentation, I listed some of their competitors and images of the competitive conference phones to emphasize how similar all the phones looked and that Company X would have first mover advantage with a new industrial design and large touch-screen.

    Overall, it was a fun exercise in presenting new design ideas for conference phones that addressed productivity issues, ease-of-use problems, social connectivity limitations, and emotional desirability. Of course the next step, had I started with Company X, would have been to verify the market problems through market analysis and vet the solutions I had proposed.

    As a side note…  While writing this blog, I found a blog by Kicker Studio, which addressed similar user problems and offered a design proposal for conference phones. The post is worthwhile reading especially if you want to see their user interface ideas.  My concern about their design is that it may only be applicable for individual users or very small conference rooms. The speaker and microphone placements are not conducive for large conference rooms. Also, the lack of a swivel limits who can see or use the touch-screen.

    To greater success.

  • In : User Experience 

    Tags: user experience  presentation  slides  interview  management  market problems  unified communications  conferencing  audio conference  conference phone  conference room phone  design  innovation  product ideas  grace hu-morley  grace morley 
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