"How can we make meetings more efficient by providing a web-based meeting tool?"
Swift is a web application that helps with meeting preparation and integrates into existing meeting setup workflow to create and track agenda-driven meetings.
This is an entrepreneurship driven project. During the 6-month project, I worked as a co-founder and led the design part of Swift. Together with Lin Zhang (co-founder and web developer), we made Swift from an idea to an early-stage startup and got grants from 2019 NYC Media Lab Combine.
Unnecessary Meetings, Unhappy Employees,
Inefficient Meeting Tools
Picking Up the Pieces
At the outset of the project, we didn’t have a clear mission or specific goals for the office meeting experience. Without pre-existing insights, we talked with 6 employees from different industries and company scales to explore the problems they faced and the needs they had.
Early Insights from the Field
We learned that the company culture, workflow, and team structure varied from different industries and company scales. There was no “standard” meeting workflow. The amount of time spent on meetings depended on the job position, seniority, team size, and company/department culture.
Although there were many differences, we found common problems and needs.
Unnecessary meetings cost the company lots of money.
Unnecessary meetings cost U.S. businesses $3.7 billion a year.
Project managers spend about half their work time in meetings - unhappy employees.
On average, a worker spends 3 hours per day in meetings, and a project manager spends about 5 hours per day in meetings.
Using several meeting tools make the workflow more complex.
In order to get the job done, project managers need to use at least 2 different software.
To reduce unproductive meetings and cut business costs.
Say no to not related meetings.
One tool that integrates into the current workflow to get the job done.
A web-based tool that reduces unproductive meetings, cuts business costs and increases employees’ happiness.
Based on the early insights we got, we set our goal, to build a web application that helps with reducing unproductive meetings, cutting business costs, and increasing employees’ happiness. Although it seemed very broad, having a goal in mind helped us to have a preview of our product and it worked as a guide to inform my design strategy.
Why a web application?
We decided to make Swift as a web app instead of a native app based on two considerations.
In most user scenarios, employees use Mac or PC as their working device, so a web app is easier to access. It needs not to be downloaded onto the user’s device.
A web app is faster and cheaper to develop and iterate.
THE PRODUCT DESIGN OVERVIEW
The following table let us have an overview of the whole product design process, the tools we used, the deliverables we made, and the insights we got at each stage. It helped us to set our plan at the beginning of the project, and make the team on the same page through the process.
EMPATHIZE WITH USERS
Before I could jump into designing, it was important to understand the users and their problem more specifically. The early insights we got led us to narrow down our target users to project managers, who spent about half their work time in meetings. To develop empathy towards users, we did one-on-one interviews to understand their actions and feelings.
We wanted to know
Who are they?
What did they say?
What did they do?
How did they feel?
To find the answer, we
did 92 interviews with project managers and people on their teams.
tried the meeting tools that users were using.
got into PM communities, like Slack channel, local meetups, etc.
Target User Persona
What we learned
“Meetings are not unproductive, they’re just the wrong meetings.”
“Who should be and who need not be in the meeting?” - Not enough centralized information.
There is not enough centralized information about teams and team members, so finding the right people for the meeting is difficult. Especially for a cross-team meeting, the meeting organizer is more familiar with team leaders but know less about team members. This causes unnecessary back and forth communications.
Not feeling fulfilled at work.
Project managers mentioned they rushed from meeting to meeting and couldn’t focus on their primary job duties. Not enough real work was getting accomplished made them feel unsatisfied with their jobs.
Users need a tool that can standardize and integrate with their existing workflow.
86% of the project managers we interviewed are always looking for efficient tools for their work. They need the tool that can integrate well with the current tools their clients and they are using.
Provide values to our target users.
Digging into the interview data revealed some big insights into the meeting experience. Driven by the deeper insights, we summarized three key values we should provide to our target users with our product.
Involve the right people.
Machine learning algorithm to provide suggestions on people suitable for the meeting, including backup people.
Create and track data-driven meetings.
Meeting agenda data and feedback survey to track everyone’s relevance, efficiency, and satisfaction of a meeting.
Integrate into current workflow.
Provide plugins. Meetings that are set up on Swift will be automatically synchronized to other platforms. Voice notification for quick and realtime meeting updates.
Values to Features
Based on the product values, we did competitive analysis through petal diagram and competitive landscape to figure out what features should Swift have and which to be implemented for each phase.
This is a way especially fits for startups to understand differentiation and identify ideal hypothesis first customer.
We listed competitors and their capability of each feature.
The four listed in the first line are the main features. They address user pain points and reflect the product values. The rest four are support features that maintain product usability and accessibility. Due to time constraint, the main focus for phase one was: Meeting attendees suggestion, Dashboard, and Integration.
Features to Structure
Phase 1 was mainly focused on developing the meeting scheduling part and the dashboard part. The biggest feature for this phase was providing meeting candidates suggestions and data-driven dashboard. I made the following information architecture to organize content so that users would easily adjust to the functionality of the product and could find everything they need without big effort.
There are two major user archetypes of our product: meeting attendees and the meeting organizer, who is the project manager in most case. The audio notification mainly works for meeting attendees. During our previous user research, we found most users used headphones during work time to help them concentrate. That’s why we thought the audio notification can help. Once a new meeting is set up, an audio notification will be sent to all meeting attendees. The notification will briefly go through the information of meeting schedule, place, agenda and other attendees so that users can have an overview of the coming meeting in a quick and easy way.
The following user flow diagram shows how the two user archetypes interact with the product main features.
Structure to Interface
Wireframes, Usability test, Iteration
There were two foundational concepts when I was designing the interface: clear navigation and less scrolling. Clear navigation means users know where they are and where to go at any stage during their task. Less scrolling refers to reduce extra action to reach the user's goal, which in our case is setting up a meeting quickly.
I used card-style interface design to visualize my two concepts. The use of cards is an excellent metaphor since they look like real-world tangible cards. The cards divide all content into sections which occupy less screen space and gather various pieces of information to form one coherent piece.
To ensure the usability, I designed two different versions of card-style interface and conducted user tests with 5 potential users. The test result shows that version 2 had better usability.
Version 3 has more details and demonstrates how Swift suggests meeting candidates.
meeting candidate suggestions
THE DESIGN SOLUTION
“Having access to resource skills and schedules means that you’ll be able to find the right person and go right to that person to get the task done quickly without overburdening the overall team."
Swift uses algorithms to provide suggestions on people suitable for the meeting, including backup people. The user interface is clean and clear, with all the machine learning done in the back-end.
Once adding meeting attendees, the interface will show the cost of the meeting. The specific number allows the meeting organizer to rethink the necessity of the meeting and the attendees.
“Creating and tracking data-driven meetings to raise employee fulfillment. "
The user dashboard provides an overview of recent meeting data and user activities.
Once each meeting meets its scheduled ending time, Swift will send a notification to each meeting attendee through a third-party platform, like Google Calendar. Swift uses meeting agenda data and feedback survey to track everyone’s relevance, efficiency, and satisfaction of a meeting.