The 3 drivers of great realtime collaboration software UX in 2021

  • Peter Parkes
    Peter Parkes

Everything we build at Qualdesk is realtime-first. Over the past year, we’ve come to understand 3 key drivers of good user experience for realtime collaboration software:

  1. Presence
  2. Latency
  3. Togetherness

1 Presence

This one is at the heart of how we design Qualdesk, and it was a fundamental influence on the decision to adopt a whiteboard UI in the first place.

If I do something, can you see me do it?

Google Docs brought realtime presence to word processing a decade ago, and in many respects what we do in Qualdesk isn’t hugely different. We use two primary visual cues to help:

  • live cursors
  • live typing

and we add some little affordances to make all of this work nicely.

For example, if you’re not moving your mouse or trackpad, other people can see your cursor but we fade out your name. When you start moving it, we show your name again. This means that if you ‘point’ at something on a board, people can see who’s doing the pointing, but that otherwise your cursor is less obtrusive.

Without good presence UI, other users’ actions become unpredictable and surprising.

2 Latency

Having presence features is all very well, but if they’re not sufficiently ‘live’ they can be misleading or confusing.

Keeping latency low is cruicial here.

3 Togetherness

This is the hardest to define, and the hardest to get right.

Does it feel like we’re actually working together?

Good presence UI and low latency both contribute to this, but there are other factors that give users a sense that they’re truly collaborating rather than working along individual paths:

  • Can users see and share a common goal for the meeting or workshop?
  • Can users get a sense of how the team is progressing towards that goal?
  • Can users feel a sense of achievement when something is completed by someone else?

In Qualdesk, we have dedicated modes for certain tasks like voting and agile estimation that aid this sense of togetherness, along with more conventional meeting facilitation tools like timers.

The ready button helps users communicate with each other in a minimally intrusive way about how they’re doing, and we throw in some confetti to celebrate the end of the meeting.

Where next?

Qualdesk’s whiteboard interface makes it reasonably easy to deliver on all three of these drivers, but as we think about additional and parallel interfaces for different types of task, we’ll have a tougher challenge on our hands.

And, as with everything we do at Qualdesk, we’re willing to be proven wrong about any of the above. User expectations will continue to evolve, and the things that matter most in 2021 may well not matter as much in 2022.