In many ways, designing an online experience is like designing an offline experience, as you would expect. But not entirely. There are certain markers that are good to watch for and consider in the process.
If we are serious about designing a good quality online experience, it is good to consider it as a “product” that can be optimized and improved through iteration. For example, we can choose the design process as a basic methodology for designing an online experience. In its most reduced form, this consists of the following components: diverging, exploration and converging, ideally repeated in at least one more cycle.
Before we start the actual divergence process, let’s determine the givens of the situation – participants.
Participants: If we are not creating an entirely new group of participants for our online project, we assume that this group is already given by something. Either we are working with a group of retirees proficient in basic computer literacy or with young people in non-formal education. Each group has its own specific needs, goals, and dispositions. Before we begin the actual process of designing the experience, it is useful to find out what expectations the participants have for the experience.
The phase of pointing out the characteristics of the group.
We start the process by mapping out the group characteristics. Who are we working with? What is the age of the participants? Is there any common topic they are interested in? Are they outgoing? Creative? Talkative? Silent?
Through mapping out our group’s characteristics, we are free to brainstorm ideas that will bring together even the most audacious, almost impossible-to-implement ideas.
Be aware of the fact that it is best not to judge our ideas in the brainstorming process. We should try to record everything that pops into our heads without any kind of practical limitations on our minds yet. What is fun to do? What could be really interesting in this specific timescape, with this specific group?
The exploration phase should contain a search for suitable platforms or apps which can be easily operated by the participants. Anyways, online sessions do not have to stay with just those platforms. If we have the opportunity to meet with the group more than once, the first meeting can be devoted to an instructional lesson via a shared screen, or the facilitator can do all the “clicking” work for everyone on a shared screen.
The phase of final decision.
Once we have grouped enough ideas of usable platforms and applications, we will highlight those that are best suited to meet the needs of our group. Let’s not be overly thorough in this, though. Sometimes the participants themselves have no idea what form of activity they might enjoy. So it is a good idea to trust your intuition and not be afraid to at least try an activity that is at least hypothetically suitable for the participants. At worst, you will resort to a pre-prepared plan b.
But let’s remember that online activity must meet certain characteristics:
- It should involve all participants.
- Participants should learn something in the process, or the activity at least should help them to get to know each other well (relevant activity).
- The activity includes a final reflection that allows an organizer to improve the prototype of an event in the future.
- The necessary computer skills should be available to the group participants beforehand or should be “achievable” for all during the instructional session.
Example 1: Using the Sims game in working with a group of emeriti.
It is unlikely that the current generation of retirees can learn to play a sims game on demand, but in the form of a shared screen, such a game can serve as a setting for collective activity. Participants can reminisce about the places of their youth and let the facilitator build these in a fictional world.
Example 2: Facilitating a design jam activity with young volunteers.
A design jam is a one-day event where different people can come together to solve a problem and build a prototype in just 10 hours (or so). The theme of each jam is announced on the morning of the design event to generate maximum excitement. The activity lends itself to a hybrid approach; part can be offline, and part can be communicated and presented online. Participants can also work in groups or individually.
Author: Katarina Klusová
Images: DALL-E from Open AI