Incoming messages and notifications can interrupt a user when they are not relevant to his or her context


Service Design project - 10 week project

Umeå Institute of Design

Team members:
Lars Sundelin
- Interaction Design
Lauren Robertson
- Interaction Design

Personal responsibility: Planning of Ideation, Digital Prototyping, Concept Video. 




The brief asked to re-imagine the asynchronous messaging experience. The challenging situation today became clear in our user studies: Incoming messages and notifications can interrupt a user when they are not relevant to his or her context. Throughout any one day, this means a mix of important, that is relevant or urgent messages, and unimportant, irrelevant messages. The disruption of the user’s attention stays the same as he will only know a message’s importance after the fact. The revealing opportunity: filtering messages based on the situational needs of the user.



The concept Skype eq captures the best of human emotional intelligence and digital automation. Skype eq seeks to provide value to both parties involved in the communication: The recipient shall receive less distraction through noise while the sender can acknowledge the context of the recipient through an availability meter.

To the success of such a learning filtering system, the assessment of the importance and relevance of messages is crucial. Our research findings showed correlations between the current location of the recipient/sender, time of day, and the relationship to the sender. You might reply to a colleague’s message while at work, but only rarely in the gym, and never after 9 pm; whereas you usually respond to your girlfriend – except for those Thursday evenings out with your boys.

But how would a system know who in the contact list holds what relationship to you? To gather such intelligence in an automated manner that needs a minimum of manual input or correction by the user the following parameters need to be considered: time, place, speed of movement, time between reading a message and replying, recency of messaging, and possibly an analysis of choice of words and length of message. Curating such data captured about recipient as well as the sender would allow categorising the relationship between the parties and recognise patterns of interactions.

InteractionGraphics Skype small.jpg


The core is the automated availability meter. While setting manual at first, the system learns to automatically categorise the user in 5 availability levels that are visible to all people in the contact list: I'm here, Available, Maybe here, Probably not here, and Unavailable.

To allow senders to message in a more considerate manner, they can acknowledge that availability status. Further, a message can be sent with consideration: Deliver a message a) at a certain time, b) when the recipient is at a certain location or c) when the person becomes available.



With our concept and design direction set, I programmed and created the interactive prototype in with the screen design of my teammates. Bringing the concept to life as a demonstration prototype allowed us to get user feedback on our concept. It further became a way of presenting our final GUI. It can be used in desktop and mobile browsers as well as the app.


This schematic shows the scope of screens we developed and implemented.




research on conversation needs in groups

To initiate the project and narrow the brief, we conducted interviews, user tests and conducted workshops with special attention to service design. We were curious about the platforms that are used for messaging between two or more people and the behaviours that people exert. In the research phase of the project, we had our focus on Umeå University's buddy program: a special programme for international students. The programme functions as a social platform for the students. Over one thousand students yearly are recruited and then divided into groups of around 30 students. These so-called “buddies” are offered a range of social activities by the programme coordinators. Coordinators and buddies use Facebook as a main channel of communication. Here, they both announce events and ordinary conversations. We analysed their communication intentions and behaviour.

We translated the findings from the research phase into user profiles of the participants. We designed and developed the user profiles as if they were their respective social media profile. This allowed us to present the profiles through a full breadth of the different web and mobile messaging platforms that are popular among the participants.


One of our research goals was to establish a communication journey between two people over the course of a usual day. We invited two interviewees later to also participate in an activity with us. We asked them to bring all their communication gadgets (phones, computers, iPads) with them. The workshop gave insights on those two communication journeys as well as when the two paths intersect: how communication gets initiated, communication intentions and flow as well as the dynamics of messaging (e.g., time intervals, length of message, use of emoticons).

Idea Iterations

Based on the user stories, brainstorming exercises and ideation, we concluded research with 8 ideas. In following workshops we introduced our initial directions where it felt relevant and discussed each idea in the scenario of a real-life setting. The participants’ feedback was very useful and gave us the chance of talking about the ideas from a realistic and solution focused perspective.

At this point we had 8 ideas we had developed through ideation based on the stories from the user's and different brainstorms. Under the workshop we introduced the ideas where it felt relevant and had a discussion about the idea in the scenario of a real life setting. Their feedback was very useful and gave us the chance of talking about the ideas from a real life and solution focused perspective.

Visual and Interaction Design

Refocussing users’ attention on the core of communication goes hand in hand with an unobtrusive, subtle design. Our minimalist theme provides overview and contextual interactions. By implementing the screens in an interactive prototype, we were able to refine and rethink interactions in the flow through our own experience and impressions of the design as well as user tests. Gaps or obstacles in the interactions became obvious quickly while our development environment in allowed to fix and fill them just as fast..



This concept walks a fine line. On one hand, it challenges a user’s privacy by using sensitive data about his whereabouts and interpersonal relationships while on the other, it provides a a more resourceful usage of attention possibilities and capabilities. Such considerations will be an important factor in the development of future async messaging services.