Replace UIs that block eye contact with a shared space that promotes it, and ensure hands are visible while collaborating. Doing so leverages the power of mirror neurons and face coding.
UI design suggestions
1. Promote unobstructed views
Build UIs that promote unobstructed views of faces when collaborating in the same location. Interfaces that occupy the entire field of view block eye contact and obscure facial expressions, two significant components of personal communication. Within a shared physical space, interfaces should be arranged around users, not between them. Of course, users may always choose to share cumbersome content (such as an especially large architectural model) that itself obscures eye contact, but the interface itself should never behave this way.
2. Support collaborative experiences when working in the same location
For example, a collaborative design tool should encourage all participants to manipulate the same object in the same place, as opposed to private instances visible to each individual separately.
3. Show hands when collaborating
Whether collaboration is taking place remotely or in person, the interface should preserve a clear view of each participant’s hands. Our ability to learn from collaboration or demonstration is heightened when the presenter’s hands are kept within full view of the users.
4. When collaborating remotely, use 3D
video of participants instead of avatars or virtual characters
Artificial representations like static images, icons or virtual characters can only reduce the clarity of communication and increase the likelihood of cognitive burden or social anxiety. For instance, some apprehensiveness can occur during a video conference call when one user provides a video feed but the other doesn’t. The UI should encourage everyone to share a 3D video feed to allay this.
The neuroscience behind it
Our ancestors evolved to communicate face-to-face, whether as a pair or an entire tribe. We’re therefore extremely sensitive to the eye gaze and expression of others, with dedicated regions of the brain continually working to make sense of them. Our sensitivity to gaze even extends to objects around us, and we quickly notice when someone else is looking at something that interests us.
…a collaborative design tool should encourage all participants to manipulate the same object in the same place.
These traits apply to learning as well. Our mirror neurons activate both when we perform a task with our hands, or when we see the same action performed by someone else with theirs, suggesting we have a uniquely evolved capacity for learning through manual demonstration.
With 3D telepresence and its emphasis on face-to-face collaboration, AR is the most natural way to exploit these sophisticated brain functions. Whether remote or in person, the user’s face and hands should always be a central aspect of collaborative interfaces.
Rizzolatti and Fogassi, 2014, describe the properties of the mirror neurons found in many areas of the brain, such as the premotor cortex, which activate both when we perform a task with our hands, as well as when we see another perform the task with theirs.
Haxby, J. V. , Gobbini, M. I. , Furey, M. L., Ishai, A., Schouten, J. L. and Pietrini, P. (2001). Distributed and overlapping representations of faces and objects in ventral temporal cortex. Science, 293, 2425-2430