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The Best Laid Plans

System A offers state-of-the-art technology that links all rooms on all floors, allowing for expansion of the system from a single room to every major technology space, if necessary. All that’s required is a few minutes of signal routing, which can be managed remotely, by the technical services staff.

System B is the same thing as System A, except all the user needs to do is run the videoconferencing software on the room-dedicated PC and invite any user in the other room.

Which do you prefer?

I recently came to find that on one of my old projects, we faced the very scenario described above. We had spent months in design with the technical services group. The technical services group had solicited feedback from the users about how they wanted the systems to operate. We incorporated that feedback with great features such as a user ID for the AV systems, so a room would automatically configure to the user’s preferences when the user punched in a unique code.

In addition to designing for the specific requirements of the project, we had to design for the broader possibilities these state-of-the-art solutions could deliver. For example, the system would allow for camera tracking of the presenter without requiring the use of a lanyard. It also meant that the building could effectively operate as a single system if necessary.

The idea of routing any signal to rooms throughout a building is hardly a foreign concept in the daily execution of audiovisual technology. We even considered that as a backup: if something were to go wrong with the audiovisual network, the users could connect to multiple rooms through the videoconferencing software. The design incorporated the software as the contingency. However, I have since come to understand that the contingency has become the norm.

I would argue that it is never a bad idea to offer multiple means of reaching the ends in any system. If one option fails the client, the show doesn’t stop; they have other ways to accomplish the same thing.

Reflecting on this project several years after the fact, I wonder what we could have done differently to improve the outcome. Could we have improved on the programming solution to decrease the number of steps a technician had to take to execute the signal routing for system expansion? If that’s the case, would the technology chosen allow for this to happen? Should we have planned for the videoconferencing software to be the primary means of connecting rooms around the building?

The User Experience

The industry is deeply invested in the concept of experience. We want to improve the way people interact with technology and make it so they want to go back and use these spaces to improve the way they communicate, the way they present, and the way they connect with others. What would have improved the user experience in the system I’ve described?

Those who prefer System B have it available to them, and it works without fault. Those who prefer System A have the same. The fact that System B may be preferred by those who work with the rooms because it’s easier for them to use tells me that we acknowledged this possibility but perhaps didn’t give it enough weight. At the same time, though, we provided options for users at any level to accomplish what the rooms are built for: to communicate with participants located both in the room and elsewhere in the building. 

Who’s to say, in the end, which should be the A or the B option? When the systems provide the choice and redundancy options to satisfy any user at any skill level, it seems that reconsideration may not be merited.

All that’s left is to ensure that when you’re designing your complex solutions, you’ve considered the everyday user, the person who doesn’t live and breathe technology. If not, perhaps a second glance at the design or interface is worth your time.