Communication

Signal — Loud Speaker button

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A few months ago, Facebook was in hot water for announcing a change in Whatsapp's privacy policies. This controversy caused a crowd movement to apps such as Signal.  I was part of that crowd movement. Today, I am a daily user of Signal for personal matters. I use it to text, send voice message, or for video calls. The latter is where I noticed a troubling and frustrating design choice.

What is the frustration about?

The problem

During a video call in Signal, the loudspeaker button is not visible on the screen. The thing is, when you are in a video call, you hold your phone to a certain distance from your face so the person you're speaking to can see your face on his device. That distance between your phone and your ears means that on a typical phone you won't be able to hear the sound through the ear speaker (the one usually on top of the smartphone).

Photo of a person using his phone to make a video call - Original picture by Kentaro Toma

I lost my patience several times trying to find it. I turned the ear speaker volume to the max but it was never enough to hear the conversation and show my whole face at the same time. I was tempted to think they didn't include the feature, but it was just too big to be true.

Screenshot of the Signal app during a video call

Notes : Every screenshot of this article is from : Signal App version 5.11.5 - Android 11 - One Plus 7T - Oxygen OS 11.0.0.2.XXXXXX

When does it happens ?

1. When the camera is on

One day, the person I was on a video call with told me to turn my camera off. I turned it off and guess who showed up? The wanted Loud Speaker button!

Screenshot of the Signa app with my camera turned off during a video call

2. When you are not using an external audio device

Another day, I was getting ready to get my daily dose of running in the woods and got caught in a video call. Surprise surprise again. When I have Bluetooth earphones connected to the phone, the speaker button is there.

Screenshot of the Signal app when an external audio device is connected (Bluetooth in this case)

What can make this frustration go away?

The fact that the Loud Speaker button is visible when I'm in an audio call or when I have an external audio device connected, but not when I need it the most in a video call when the phone is away from my ears just doesn't make sense to me.

As a user, I would like to be able to quickly access the Loud Speaker button during a video call so I can better hear what my interlocutor is telling me.

Possible solutions

A- Use the phone's sensor

As a native app, the Signal app can detect when I'm turning the volume of my phone up during a video call. Therefore, when the app detects that I've reached the maximum, it might ask me if I want to switch to the Loud Speaker.

Design of Solution A : a dialog asking the user if he/she wants to turn the loudspeaker on

B- Use a gesture to switch cameras and free some space

One of the buttons displayed during a video call is the one to switch between your rear and your front camera. Since the double-tap to switch between cameras is pretty much widespread in apps that use the phone's camera (Instagram, Snapchat, Camera apps, ...), we could onboard users on the use of this gesture instead of permanently showing a button. By doing so, we would free a slot to show the Loud Speaker button without changing the number of buttons displayed (4).

Design of Solution B : a hints to tell the user he/she can double tap switch from front camera to rear camera

C- Show the loud speaker button

As we have previously seen when I have an external audio connected to my phone, the app displays 5 buttons, one of which is our beloved Loud Speaker button. So we might as well go with that option.

Design of Solution C : Showing permanently 5 buttons to make it easier for the user to turn on/off the loudspeaker

MVP

Since the option with 5 buttons already exists, this solution might be the most (cost) effective MVP. So let's go for solution C.

Global learnings - Takeaways

When you gather data about how your users interact with your product, make sure not to overlook questions such as :

  • How they hold their device (portrait, landscape) ?
  • Is there a reason they are holding their device that way to use your product ?
  • Which information do you already have ?
  • If your product is a native app, are you using the phone's sensor to improve your user experience?
  • What are the actions  (in prioritized order) users expect to be able to make ?
  • If a polymorphic interface makes sense or keeping most of the user interface identical across the app wouldn't be the easiest and more user-friendly approach ?

What do you think about this solution? Would it be helpful to you? Would you have done anything differently?

Feel free to reach out on Linkedin so we can talk about this article or anything related to User Experience Design.

About this suggestion

The suggestions we make are not made thanks to a full and proper user research. At best we did a guerilla study about user behavior. Most of the time, these are suggestions based on our own experience and needs, which don't represent necessarily all end users needs.

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