Disclaimer: All views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the respective company. If you are interested in working with the design team, reach out to me. We have regular openings in multiple locations around the world.
2021 almost ended and this year turned out to be a very intense one both for the product I was working on and for the team I am part of. Our early concepts from January, rapidly shaped into a macOS, Windows, and web application in October.
Before I talk more about all the design details, let me give a brief history lesson of Prezi to set the stage.
Prezi was founded in 2009 as a presentation software company in Hungary. The company over the years grown its business in both enterprise and education space; next to exploring brave, new interaction paradigms in the spatial presentation space.
Prezi's acquisition of Infogram in 2017 was ignited the company's transformation to a visual communication platform. And soon after, it resulted in the introduction of Prezi Design, a tool to create all types of interactive artifacts like social media posts, posters, or data visualizations.
Meanwhile, there was something exciting cooking in the Prezi Labs. Prezi's internal innovation lab runs experiments to explore Augmented Reality opportunities in the presentation space. The public preview of one of these experiments was showcased live at 2017's TED conference by Robert Sapolsky who gave his presentation from a remote location and projected life-sized to the stage alongside his visuals.
No one knew at that time that remote presentations will be such a prominent part of our daily work. It took a couple more years to productize this idea and bring the first version of Prezi Video to market in 2019.
The initial version of Prezi Video already enabled anyone to record, share, or present live in video calls. The content can be created in Prezi Video or brought in from existing presentations. Lots of people found value in this tool as work and schools were suddenly moved to all of our homes. This resulted in over 1 million people who used Prezi Video by January 2021.
Rebuilding an app with 1M users
So here we are in 2021 with a product that is successful and as a swiss army knife can help in a myriad of situations. Why are we redesigning an app that works?
After talks with our most successful users, the recurring topic we heard was the strong impact on their audience's engagement when they see content right next to their face in a video call. They often compared this experience to screen share which forced the presenter into a tiny box in the corner of their audience's screen. Prezi Video meanwhile felt more natural, engaging to interact with and enabled them to express their emotions with their body language and facial expressions.
Designed once, built once.
As Prezi Video's feature set rapidly and somewhat organically grown, significant differences appeared in the tool across platforms. This was not only a headache for the design team to maintain and introduce further capabilities of the app but engineering struggled to keep up with all the differences too. There was a strong appetite to start building the app in a way that results in a singular, consistent experience. Designed once, built once. Unfortunately, it was not as easy as it sounds but this powerful mantra guided our recent design and development efforts well.
(This can be more profesh. how a strong connection to customers help shape the product-market fit) Thanks to our user research, customer success, and support teams we were aware of the shortcomings of our solution when it comes to presenting content live. Fortunately, we had plenty of ideas on how can we support this experience better. Together with product leadership, we were confident that we can build a more focused application if we would concentrate on this specific use case.
Designed for the future of Virtual Presentations
Regarding the future of work, one of the megatrends is called hybrid work. The change of everyone's expectation how they want to work and exercise that flexibility of when, where, how they want to work. Presentations are not happening exclusively in big conference rooms anymore but in cozy home offices, tidy bedrooms, kitchens, or sunny balconies.
What people are sharing with their audience also shifted in recent years as barebone bullet points are not cutting it anymore. Screen sharing became extremely common in video calls but it comes with the sacrifice of our facial expressions, body language as we attempt to tell engaging stories, convey our message. Many presenters are looking for alternatives to share videos, animated gifs, interactive demos in new, more exciting ways. (our solution to mixed or augmented environment where content can be shown in a shared space )
Technology at its best should empower us in our job. In reality, it often creates additional challenges. For example, juggling multiple application windows, managing screen sharing, scamming through questions in the chat while presenting in a video call can be overwhelming at times. As platforms and tools invest more in working better together, many of these technical hurdles can be eliminated and help focus on the presentation rather than all the surrounding tech. This year we partnered with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Webex to integrate Prezi Video into their app ecosystems to reduce complexity in setting up and using our tool in a video call.
Live interaction in a video call
In 1988, Microsoft manager Paul Maritz sent Brian Valentine, test manager for Microsoft LAN Manager, an email titled "Eating our own Dogfood", challenging him to increase internal usage of the company's product. From there, the usage of the term spread through the company. Since then "dogfooding" became a common practice in software development not only inside Microsoft. Using your own product internally can not only uncover bugs in the app but can help discover unforeseen use cases too. In the case of Prezi Video, we saw an emerging need of editing content live during video calls.
First, we thought it is because people want to edit typos, make quick edits on the fly, but there was more to it as we started using the app ourselves. Editing text and adding visuals in a live video call without switching between editing or presenting modes unlocked the tool to be used more interactively.
For fun, I put together for the design team a quick survey and asked them to reply to my rapid-fire questions using Prezi Video. So as I revealed a question the 8 people in the call had to type in their favorite breakfast food or how many meetings they attend on a regular day. It was not only fun but showed us a radically different use case for remote team interaction than presenting prepared slides to others. Since then, we used Prezi Video in our retrospectives, team breakfasts, status updates, ice breakers and continue exploring ways to unlock better interaction, collaboration, communication in our distributed, remote team.
Nowadays you can find many solutions to share screen recordings with colleagues. The most commonly used tool for this is Loom, but Vimeo, Slack, Dropbox introduced similar capabilities for presenters to narrate their screen capture in a tiny bubble in the corner of their recording.
We found a more human-centered approach to sharing the screen in Prezi Video. Instead of compressing the presenter to the tiny prison of the cornered bubble, we brought the screen to the same space as the presenter, which enables interactions with the shared screen not only with the cursor pointer but with our real fingers, gestures, body language.
In our design team, we use Prezi Video for design walkthrough, status update, collecting async feedback for quicker, better decision making.
Design Quality Assurance
Without reusable components and a library of well-maintained 'single source of truth', we had to be creative how to make sure we meet our desired level of consistency.
We organized the design and development workflow to facilitate a unified, singular, consistent user experience across web, Windows, and macOS apps.
Regular design walk-throughs and a systematic consistency check were introduced. The design team assembled, and we discussed in detail all the inconsistencies we encountered as we tested pre-released versions of the app. Then we organized, prioritized what changes were required in order to mitigate the differences between the different platforms. This process is not a regular design activity but it turned out to be a valuable exercise for designers for being able to articulate the design decisions and communicate to the product management and development teams.
Early in the concept development, the design team spent time aligning on certain principles, dimensions, variables to follow as we set out to rebuild the application from the ground up. As the application evolved and more parts started to get in shape, we continuously checked back, adjusted, and aligned on the initial system we defined.
It is far from perfect but the spirit of systematic thinking can be seen in the attention to detail as we designed the app.