Students foresee the future of communications – and it’s not yet another tool!
When we asked students from Haute Ecole des Arts du Rhin and the University of Ethnology of Strasbourg to think about the future of communication, they took us to far and unexpected regions. Strange, but inspiring!
We thought they would cross science fiction frontiers and propose new sophisticated gadgets. We were wrong! We were wrong because while continuing to look for the next collaboration feature, we nearly forgot the basics: Good communication starts with an appropriate environment inviting people to talk and to listen.
When it comes to business communication the requirement is the same, however, the equation is changing. First, the processes are changing as they need to be agile and straightforward. The work environment is also changing with an increasing number of remote workers and virtual teams. And, the management style is changing from command and control to employee empowerment and self-managed work teams. Communication means having to adapt to this new paradigm. Not only did the students understand that, but they looked like they owned these keys deep inside themselves.
Two groups of students decided to focus on meetings and the communication between participants. “How can we improve the quality of information exchanged during meetings?”
The first project: Cirro Focus
Cirro Focus, the first project, analyzed interactions and participant behaviors in Agile processes. The group needed to answer the questions “How do you create a workplace without walls, and how do you create links inside a working group even if they are mobile?” Cirro Focus is a meeting device that helps people to feel part of the team even if they are not physically present. Cirro Focus is a light made of circular rings which can open as wide as the area occupied by the team under the device. The central structure contains a video projector, microphone and loudspeakers and is connected to a global communication system. The device encourages closeness and confidence between the teammates, even for those not present in person as their image (avatar or live video) is projected on the floor and is fully part of the team. Cirro Focus uses a mobile application running on each participant’s smartphone to make a connection between the teammate and the meeting area.
The second project: Ostrakinda
Ostrakinda, the second project, took a closer look at interactions between participants during meetings, either at the same location or through the conferencing system. They concluded that the quality of the meeting outcome does not rely solely on the quality of the audio and video communications. Very often, meetings end up with poor results, either because of a misunderstanding between participants, ego quarrels, or topic complexity. To emerge from these dead-end situations, one could use meta-communication and this is the core of Ostrakinda.
Ostrakinda is a device playing the role of a virtual and neutral participant in the meeting that introduces chance and disruptive viewpoints to nurture the discussions, propose alternatives, and calm debates. Basically, it consists of a communication system embedded in a puzzling and handmade crafted structure which listens silently for words that reoccur frequently in the meeting, the sound level, the temper of the discussions and fetches and displays in the meeting room random images in relation to those words. These images build a heuristic map, represented in two dimensions, another interpretation of the meeting, leading to other resolution paths.
Other projects exploring phone/user behaviors
Aside from these two devices are five other projects that explored phone-user behaviors and their relationships with their communication device. More than a century after the phone had been invented, these projects proposed to re-think how our body could interact with communication devices. Five students developed several tracks such as:
- Jewelry as communication control devices
- Use of leather or soft materials
- Including light to transform the phone into a more luxurious element
- Analyzing body gestures to initiate communication services
Though these devices may look quite different than what we’re used to for communications, they highlight something very interesting: What gives value to communication is more the content of the information rather than the ability to exchange that information.
So, what we’ve learned is that it’s not just about the tools, but about human interactions!
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