Lockdown feels like normal, you’re stuck indoors, and theres a limit of what to do. Things are very different currently. We are all going through huge life style changes and unclear to when life will return to ‘normal’.
I’m generally someone who is quite active when it comes to running, going to the gym and playing hockey. As well as going out a few times a week for dinner, pub, theatre and running events.
This is where the internet steps up to the next level of creating virtual experiences to try and emulate that of the traditional and real world.
As a User Experience Designer I’m always keen to try different experiences in the world of digital, and this was the perfect opportunity to jump in and sample the delights of virtual experiences.
Working from home
Tech: Zoom and Microsoft Teams
Working from home (WFH) is nothing new for me. I have been working for a while with the ability to work remotely. This is normally once a week due to hot desking at work as well as working with most of my colleagues in India. Now its been weeks WFH, it definitely feels a lot different.
The benefits as everyone is experiencing are a much shorter commute, comforts of your own home, better work life balance and ability to be in for deliveries! Additionally, speaking with my team we all feel we are more productive and we are delivering more.
However, now we are all online and easy to get a hold of, meetings can be relentless and time can be stacked. This results in joining meetings instantly rather than grabbing a coffee, water or going to the toilet. We do discuss these factors and new kings of etiquette and behaviour are a result of this. We now have a 5mins at the start of meetings to give people a chance to do what they need to do.
WFH for a long period can be isolating, even though I’m seeing my colleagues face to face every day, the experiences are more work driven rather than a quick personal catch up or a chat in the kitchen.
We do have stretching and meditations sessions everyday if we want to join in online, as well as communicating the need to have a break and look after yourself.
In all, working from home is very empowering and saves a lot of time and energy. However it can become isolating and relentless at times. The main thing is to be aware of the new situation and keep a dialogue with your team to not go mad!
Virtual Pub Quizzes
Tech: Zoom and Youtube
Quizzes seem to have been all the rage during lockdown. With local pubs taking their quizzes online, to celebrities doing theres for various movie studios, there has been an abundance of online quizzes.
We found out about the Virtual Pub Quiz hosted on Youtube at the start of lockdown. The quiz manages to get over 170,000 users playing live. It was different to play at home rather than with a group of friends down the pub, but it was good fun. My girlfriend and I worked together to start with, then became competitive to see who could win.
As well as The Virtual Quiz, a group of friends who we normally go to a quiz down the local on Sunday night came together to do one on Zoom. One of my friends spend his furloughed time on putting together the quiz. We decided we would all play as a team like normal. Surprisingly with the amount of us, there was a lot of automatic etiquette that we all didn’t talk over each other. You can do the quiz here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5qto3IcRRU
Finally we hosted a quiz to my girlfriends family. It’s a good way to get everyone together but have something to do. It went down really well and next week her niece will be doing one for us all too.
Quizzes appear to be one of the biggest past times of lockdown, as they are a great way of getting friends and family together and either answer questions together or get competitive and see who is the best!
Pokemon Safari Zone
Tech: Zoom and Pokemon Go
We were supposed to be going to Liverpool for a long weekend of meeting up, catching Pokemon and exploring Liverpool. Instead we made it onto Zoom for 10am to 6pm on Saturday. People dropped in and out, and we all shared the experience.
It wasn’t as good as what the actual event would have given us, but it was pretty relaxed having coffee and snacks in plentiful supply while sitting down. The actual events contrasting this greatly as manically catching Pokemon, spinning stops and doing research tasks.
Tech: Virtual Run Series (website), Garmin Fenix 3 (watch) and Strava (app)
I took part in a Virtual Run (with Virtual Pace Series or VPS) purely due to the medal having Baby Yoda on it! It was advertised through Facebook so I thought I would give it a whirl. It was quite costly, at the best part of £40, but missing doing events and getting a medal at the end of it, I thought why not!
I registered online, and straight away my medal was on its way to me. So far so good.
The event I did was the ‘This is the way’ run, inspired by Star Wars The Mandolarian. The event went over Star Wars weekend, being around May the fourth. The race was 4 days that would equal to 10 miles. Starting at 1 mile on the first day and progressing to 4 miles on the fourth day.
The experience was good motivation and fun to do as it made a bigger distance easier to tackle. I use my Garmin Fenix 3 watch to track my runs, and then sync up to Strava.
The experience post running was not so great. It was confusing as to how you upload your runs, as I received no service communications, but an absolute ton of marketing messages. Additionally, I had not received my medal, so I was assuming it was some sort of scam.
The post results page after submitting was useless. It gave some random events and distances. Not a lot to engage with and made no sense. There was no leaderboard and a ‘human’ aspect to it.
Contacting VPS (Virtual Pace Series) was useful as they speedily got back to me about my concerns.
I finally got my medal after going on toward two months and was very happy to finally get it.
Overall it was fun motivation to keep running, even though it was quite costly. For someone who did regular events, this was the next best thing, and even though there wasn’t a crowd and people to run with, it gave more purpose to just normal running, with motivation to get out of bed early. I would say I recommend VPS, however as I haven’t still received the medal, I would say to use a different service.
UX Crunch at Home
Tech: Big Marker
I’ve attended a few ‘UX Crunch’ events in the past. The events are an evening of talks, pizza, beer and networking. Generally good value for money. With the lockdown, UX Crunch at Home was born.
There were some interesting speakers, for the ones I registered and paid for the topics were Cognitive Psychology and Design, and Remote Testing.
The platform was decent with a window for the presenter to introduce each of the speakers and seamlessly transitioning.
There was a chat feature for Q&A with speakers, as well as different topic areas to network and share advice.
Compared to the physical event, it lacks the pizza and booze, but the core and purpose of the event is still there. A benefit is the sessions are recorded to watch at a later date, so can view again, or if you miss it have access to watch it another time.
Product Excellence Conference
Our internal work conference was changed from a physical event in Philadelphia, to an online only conference. As time and place are no longer aspects of having a show, the conferences has been setup to have webinars over months rather than days. This way it is less disruptive with day to day work as well as distributing the content in way more of the business can consume and be involved. During the webinars, we are muted, but can send in questions at the end of the presentations.
Obviously this is not as exciting as going to the event itself, however it increasingly shows the possibility that physical events are not a necessity when it comes to running this kind of conferences.
Functionality included the ability to raise questions during the presentation that would then be used for Q&A at the end of the presentation. Digitally its a great way to get a question in, and also means that if not all are answered, there is a digital record that can be answered at a later date.
As the questions were answered, it was indicated in the dialogue window. Even though not as engaging with being able to ask in person, this provided a great way to see what questions others were asking as well as having it submitted as and when you wanted to.
The Zoom setup meant that everyone was muted which adds professionalism to the webinars removing background noise and ‘phantom chewers’. However, as a presenter it can be rather ‘awkward’ due to no audience feedback or understanding if there are visual or audio issues.
Zoom was a great tool for the event to continue. The event itself now will span over months rather than over 3 days. The benefit means that these webinars are a lot more convenient to fit into the working day to take out an hour or two vs a few days.
In the meantime I have to record my presentation and upload it for everyone around the business to check out.
Virtual sponsored cycle
Tech: My Virtual Mission, Strava and Garmin Connect (and Mind, please sponsor us if you can)
Since lockdown I’ve had more time to be able to go and do a run or a cycle most days (following the rules of course). Within my company a sponsored cycle had started and were inviting people to join in. It was cycling the distance from our Richmond office and around Europe through out other offices to finally end up at the Austrian office 3200km later.
I signed up as it is great motivation and also for the worthy cause of running for Mind, a mental health charity, which I have raised money for in the past. Originally I thought we would be aiming to hit the distance together, it wasn’t until after I signed up that it was my aim to cycle the distance on my own. Daunting at first, then told that it was more about trying to get as near to the target as possible.
We used the My Virtual Mission app to log our progress and to see on a map where we all were. The competitive and contextualise of this was a fun a very motivating way to push ahead and literally go that extra mile. On the map, there is a pace marker that shows where you should be if you want to be able to get the cycle done in 90 days, this was pretty far ahead of me!
There is also an area you can see the percentage of the time gone by compared to the percentage of distance you have covered. Presenting information these ways helps to push hand motivate as to exactly what I need to do.
As of writing this post I am 6 out of 24 people, but still have a lot of kilometres to go!
We made a night of it! The National Theatre have been putting different recorded productions onto Youtube for a week at a time. This limited amount of time gives access to some top theatre content that was filmed for the broadcast into cinemas at the time for a limited time only, and now into your living room.
This week was Frankenstein directed by Danny Boyle and starring Benedict Cumberbatch (as the creature) and Jonny Lee Miller.
We decided to make a night of the event. How can you emulate the Theatre experience within the home?
1. You’re going to need some tickets
Having a background in graphic design I spent a bit of time to create some tickets for the event.
2. Get dressed up
Dress to impress. With all the misery of lockdown, getting formal and making an effort made the night even more immersive and fun.
3. Go out for dinner before show
Normally we have dinner before a show. This time, Deliveroo came to the rescue and we had a lovely Japanese dinner to kick off the night.
4. Pre drinks before the show
We made it to the theatre bar, now to the beer garden to enjoy a drink before the show begins. Luckily the sun was shining in the back garden of my Twickenham home.
5. Get your drinks for the show, and don’t forget to pre-order for the interval
Luckily there was no queue and we got our drinks right away. G&T and prosecco and we are ready to go.
6. Take your seats, turn the lights down and press play!
Once we took our seats, we lowered the lights and pressed play.
7. Interval break
We weren’t sure when the interval would have been, and missed the mark by a few minutes. However we grabbed our reserved drinks and a mini ice cream ready for the second half
8. Home time
Once over, it was time to go home. We got up from our chairs and walked over the bedroom. The End!
It was great to see a big theatre production from home and also for free. I feel this particular production benefitted for home release as it was directed by Danny Boyle and some of the camera work would have not been possible to see in that way if you were there in the theatre itself.
Murder Mystery: Race to Mars
Tech: Zoom and Fever
Fever are a company who create immersive theatre experiences. With the current situation have created some great fun ways to keep entertained while staying at home. The experiences are ‘murder mysteries’ where a user groups up with others and have to solve a ‘who dunnit’ type murder mystery.
Premium Star, Mars Two, Texas Cosmos, Aerospace, eXpace and Galactic Design, are the six ships that compete to reach the first to the red planet. When it is about to land, Premium Star suffers a strange accident that makes it explode … what could have happened? The rest of the ships are now suspected of causing this terrible accident and you will be part of the investigation to uncover the truth! This event will undoubtedly go down in history, but why? For being the first settlement on another planet? For being the first murder in outer space? What is the reality behind this accident?
For ‘Race to Mars’ my girlfriend and I registered one account and logged into Zoom, with a bit of fumbling about being sent dead links we finally joined the party a few minutes late. In here was a briefing, and on the screen were other households ready for the mission to begin.
We were then split into groups where we had 5 minute rotations to interview each of the five ships captains. This was trickier than it sounded. Being put into groups and not having much time to say hello to each other we were in with our first interview. The captain (who is an actor) started telling his side of the story. Time was flying by and by the time we started to get some questions in, the line went dead, and we had a hilarious awkward, ‘errrm ok’ moment with the other participants of the brutality of the situation. We realised we had to push in.
During the interviews we chatted briefly with the other participants about questions to answer. The actors were good at their roles playing people from different parts of the world. They would also send pieces of evidence such as images, video, reports and even morse code to help flesh out the mystery and also some times throw you off the scent.
It was difficult to get in questions, and some times there were ‘echos’ due to others not muting. It was a very intense couple of hours and great fun. Once we had done two rounds of interviews, we had a discussion to who had done it and why. This zipped past quicker than the interviews and we seemed to have narrowed down to two solutions. We then all joined up with the rest of the participants where our representatives would give our answer and rationale. Our team was way off as we missed a vital piece of evidence.
Overall it was good fun, very intense but worth £10 and two hours of our time. I feel I would do this again, and this time I would be better prepared.
There are a surprising number of different virtual experiences to explore online. Most of them are a lot better than anticipated. There are many others that I have not got to yet. Even when lock down is over, these experiences will still be fun. The advantages are that you can do some of these with friends and family no matter where they are, and also means you don’t have to leave the house on those cold and wet days!