Designing for Collaboration at Microsoft's Holographic Academy


Effective collaboration is key in creating successful HoloLens applications

Last week I represented creative on our team at the second session of the HoloLens Holographic Academy at Microsoft. It was a busy two days combining talks and demos from Microsoft and previous partners of the Academy. This session had about 24 students, and it was almost an even 50/50 split between technologists and creatives.

What’s really cool is that we’re learning about some great upcoming features and are getting hands on time with those demos we’ve been looking at from afar for too long - this time the Lowe’s demo. There are a lot of things we can’t share or give opinions on pre-official Microsoft announcement, so I’ll just say that there’s a lot to get excited about coming up.

From left to right: Senior Art Director Kat McCluskey and Technology Directors Chuck Fletcher and Wells Caughey at Microsoft.

From left to right: Senior Art Director Kat McCluskey and Technology Directors Chuck Fletcher and Wells Caughey at Microsoft.

My new mantra to any creative working on HoloLens is: learn the basics of updating a deploy, it is worth it and makes you feel really cool.

As I mentioned, the session was 50% creatives. Most of us never delve into code, but we did the first day, first session. The entire class edited and deployed an application several times toward experiencing a shared group experience. I’m familiar with C++ from taking it in high school and college, so to have completed this process with a guide was a fantastic confidence booster toward me being more hands on during a hybrid creative and tech process. In our more recent R&D experiences, being able to view creative edits as they’re made within a build has been increasingly valuable. My new mantra to any creative working on HoloLens is: learn the basics of updating a deploy, it is worth it and makes you feel really cool.

In a design focused session lead by Amy Scarfone (Microsoft Design) and Amy Hillman (Object Theory) we were taken through eight considerations for shared group experience applications in HoloLens that were learned by the first participants of the Holographic Academy. I found this to be really informative. Here are my notes from that session:

Create presence with avatars when users are engaging remotely

  • Use simplified anatomy - less is more, avoid the “Uncanny Valley”
  • Replicate natural motions & gestures. Think about the human body and head gestures.
  • Spatialize the avatar’s voice
  • There are psychological implications to consider with avatars around relational scale, gender and providing options that can impact people and projects. For example, a larger avatar against a smaller avatar can seem too domineering for fair collaboration.
  • Also, consider, does your app really need avatars?

Provide for human comfort

  • Use near field fading
  • Make collisions obvious
  • Design to discourage collisions - this can be done with round tables and orientations that are more inviting
  • Use familiar social cues. Think about hellos / goodbyes within an experience

Make roles and control clear in a collaborative application

  • Use activity indicators to show who is in charge, as well as allowing for different abilities and views for those in control.
  • Include a mute option for larger groups
  • Restrict overlapping actions
  • Reference existing multi-user design such as multi-user gameplay

Make intent and focus obvious so that you can see what people are looking at or focusing on

  • Use Raycast lines or personalized cursors
  • Allow people to turn indicators on/off - but default to off
  • Don’t laser beam people in the face (ha)
  • Light colored, medium weight, dashed Raycast lines work well. However, don’t make the line too thin as this can cause aliasing issues, but play with weight and opacity.

Maintain object consistency

  • Provide orientation cues. In our shared experience demo, text was on the 3D object to provide orientation.
  • Use neutral shadows and lighting. Baked light and shadows help with processing.

Create pleasant transitions

  • Transition groups together, based on leader’s action
  • Don’t get out of sync at different levels of scale - when people are represented at different scales it can get weird to look from a small scale to a large scale (think invasion of giants)
  • Use sound cues
  • Fade in / out

Adapt to, or be consistent across environments

  • Use holographic grounding objects
  • Stage your physical environments

Think about levels of persistence

  • Carefully consider whether you need persistence because there are storage of data considerations - and how are people going to retrieve it?
    • How do you maintain multiple sessions for a client without conflict
    • Networking complications / implications need to be considered between creative and tech
  • Use video, voice and text memos
    • If considering an experience where people might engage at different times, time stamping can be helpful to know what time a communication piece was left
    • Consider how you want to filter, by task / person
    • Voice recognition could be interesting, by setting the grammar recognizer with something like “Show me all messages from _____”
On setting up experiences for a demo a helpful thing can be to consider environmental items that your application needs and providing for them in the Holographic space when they don’t exist.

Additional learnings:

  • Findings have shown that if multiple users are in a shared experience, non-users are the ones who feel left out vs. if a non-user looks at one HoloLens user, or multiple users doing different tasks.
  • On setting up experiences for a demo a helpful thing can be to consider environmental items that your application needs and providing for them in the Holographic space when they don’t exist. An example of this could be creating a Hologram table for scenarios when that isn’t available in a space.
  • In terms of your project road map, if you want to allow for large groups to use your application, make sure you can make it work for a small group first.

I’m looking forward to applying this thinking in upcoming collaboration focused projects. Let us know if you have any thoughts around making multi-user applications more successful.


Kat McCluskey (@mccluskeykat) is Senior Art Director for the Razorfish Emerging Experiences team, based out of our Atlanta office.

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