Intuitively scheduling international meetings — a 4-hour UX challenge

I was asked to challenge a design exercise, and I had four hours to complete it. I loved it. I love structuring design processes within time constraints, in which choosing the most efficient steps and articulating effective communication methods are part of the challenge. Here is my design exercise prompt:

Valentina leads business and sales development for a Fortune 500 company. She travels three out of four weeks in the month, and when she travels, it’s almost always international. Between her travel across many different time zones and a busy meeting schedule in numerous cities, Valentina finds it challenging to keep up with her calendar to show up to the right places at the right time. Design a calendar flow and interface that is smart enough to suggest meeting times, accounts for changing time zones, and is proactively working for Valentina to make sure she is always on time for her meetings.

Image source: https://unsplash.com/photos/JaoVGh5aJ3E

Given this four hour constraint, I chose to spend at least 75% of my time exploring solutions and the rest, executing my presentation. Strategically, I chose the following steps to derive solutions in most effective way:

  1. Defining problems
  2. Competitive research quick research on similar products (scheduling tools)
  3. Inspirational research– quick research on other industries tackling similar pain points
  4. Craft presentation– create designs and slides that effectively explain the concept in a short presentation

Defining problems

The project description covers the context, but in order to effectively carry on the design process and presentation, I tried to identify and list three core problems to focus on solving:

  • Managing meetings in multiple time zones is not intuitive
  • Getting meeting confirmations from international clients takes time and is cumbersome
  • Underestimating the amount of time necessary for international travel
Image source: https://unsplash.com/photos/ft0-Xu4nTvA

Narrowing down into these concentration points also helped me stay focused during my research.

Competitive research: how other scheduling apps solve time zone discrepancies

In this first part of the exercise, my goal was to understand what had already been done by competitors to find elements that this project should include to create an effective value proposition. For this purpose, I explored processes of comprehensive calendar applications, including Google Calendar and Apple Calendar, as well as ones more specific to meeting scheduling tools, such as CalendlyDoodleSpaceTime, ScheduleOnce… amongst others.

SpaceTime

SpaceTime focuses on scheduling meetings for your remote team members by visualizing different available times elegantly.

  • Team members can set their locations with work hours
  • The system illustrates others’ work hours when you schedule a meeting
  • The program uses slack bot integration, which adds contextual information like timezones and the team’s availabilities as members chat about their meetings
With its focus on solving the problem with time zones, SpaceTime illustrates multiple members’ personal timeline/availability in different time zones effectively and beautifully (image source: APPCUES).

Google Calendar

Google Calendar is an unavoidable case study in this exercise. It demonstrates how a complex and comprehensive calendar application handles time zones, and it is a good benchmark for a standard office productivity tool. This function:

  • Displays a secondary time zone, next to your own; (Helpful if you have teams at a specific remote location)
  • Updates the primary time zone based on your current location
  • Highlights others’ work hours as you try to set-up a meeting
\Google Calendar demonstrates how a comprehensive calendar application can solve the inconvenience of time zone variations for creating meetings..

Doodle

Doodle attempts to solve another problem in this challenge. Finding a feasible time for everyone can be extremely time-consuming. Using a poll-like system helps gather participants’ preferences out of suggested times.

  • Poll-like system that allows members to collectively vote for proposed times
Image source: UMTHUNZI

Inspirational research: the battle against jet lag for international flights

Project Sunrise

For international airlines, managing their crews’ and passengers’ jet lag is a contiguous problem. Their efforts to solve this problem are reflected by their inflight schedules. Remotely located, Australia-based, Qantas Airlines recently conducted three experimental ultra long haul flights (known as Project Sunrise) to test whether these unconventional nineteen to twenty-hour flights could be commercially viable, and how they could affect people’s bodies.

In conventional long-haul flights, which typically can range from ten to fourteen hours, passengers are served a big meal after take-off. The cabin turns off light shortly after the meal service to get passengers to sleep until later inflight service is presented before landing.

Unlike this conventional model, Qantas’ experimental flights kept the cabin bright for the first six hours, and passengers were encouraged to stay awake. Meal services were designed to keep passengers hydrated by serving soups, for example, to help them stay awake. About six hours after taking off from New York City, the flight turned off its cabin light around 4am NYC time / 6pm in Sydney, leading passengers to adjust to Sydney time more easily, instead of falling asleep too soon. To help passengers sleep even better, the cabin crew conducted a series of light exercises.

Inflight meals on Project Sunrise were designed to keep passengers hydrated and awake (How many meals were served on that 19-hour flight? Fewer than you’d think | Los Angeles Times)

Takeaways

Get passengers to adapt to the destination’s time during the flight. Help passengers adapt with good meals, suited light, and an exercise routine.

Design concepts

1.  Visualize Valentina’s routine in different time zones as she travels abroad

The airlines case study opened up an interesting product opportunity. Similar to how airlines navigate passengers through different time zones by rearranging meals and sleep rhythm, Valentina’s daily habits are rearranged based on the local times of her trips.

As a default, Valentina’s routines are reflected in her calendar

Valentina is based in London. Her default meal and sleep times are adjusted to the GMT time zone. This helps her to quickly grasp a sense of time at her home. These default routines can be customized based on her lifestyle. In addition, these are only suggested times, so they can be edited as needed depending on other schedules.

As default, the calendar’s time is based on Valentina’s home town, London. The calendar prepopulates with suggested meal and sleep times that she can also customize.

As Valentina books international flights, the calendar suggests to rearrange her routine based on local times.

Valentina recently booked business trips to Singapore and Qatar, leaving in two weeks. When she opened her calendar, she was asked if she would want to display her routine in these local times. After confirming, her routine rearranged itself and her flights were also added to reflect the appropriate time zone.

In this calendar, her routine during her flights is based on the destination time. Following this will help Valentina adjust to the local time more smoothly. Although she will not have control over inflight service schedules, this command helps her plan how she should spend her time during these flights. For instance, she can eat at the airport and tell flight attendants in advance to skip her meals, respecting suggested routines in this calendar.

When Valentina booked her flights elsewhere, the calendar app asks her if she wants to readjust her routines based on her local times at her destinations.
When Valentina confirmed to rearrange times of her routines, the calendar updates them based on the local times of her trips. The calendar also marks clearly where she will be at top of the calendar.

2 . Schedule a remote meeting before flights

Typically, Valentina schedules meetings before setting flights. This time, she will have to meet with her important client in Taipei in two weeks. She’s already had some meetings in London, which makes scheduling in Taipei difficult. Additionally, flights may be sold out soon, so she needs to confirm this meeting swiftly.

The following calendar shows the local time, once she selects her desired meeting location. Additionally, other existing meetings automatically block out the minimum time required for her to fly to and from Taipei. With this guide, Valentina can simply drag the time range she wishes to suggest for meeting with clients. After confirming meetings and sending invitations, her clients can respond back with their availability.

After inputting Taipei in the text box and selecting, “I’m going to meet there,’’ the calendar grays out minimum times to take for her to get to Taipei. Additionally, the time on the left rail changes to the local time, as well as their business hours including highlighting late nights. This reference helps Valentina suggest convenient and appropriate meeting times to her clients.
From the set information, she can bulk select times to suggest to her clients. The times highlighted with bold outlines are business hours in Taipei.
Once she releases her drag, a pop-up appears to confirm time suggestions for her clients. First, times are only local business hours within the area she selected. She can unselect or edit these, in case she wants to widen the range to allow dinner times or narrow them down to have meetings only around lunch times, for example.

3 .  Customizing meeting reminder pushes to her phone

Now, we have covered scheduling. At her destination, Valentina prefers receiving reminders on her phone than on her desktop. She hates desktop notifications, because she may be presenting to her clients at any given moment, which would be unprofessional to have displayed.

The calendar app provides quick access to her “Today’s Overview” on her desktop widget. More importantly, Valentina can manage push notifications to her phone (one for ten minutes before she needs to leave and another before the meeting, for example) from this widget. This way, she can be on top of scheduling her travel in cities that she may be unfamiliar with.

Valentina can toggle on/off two types of push notification for her meetings today. One for the suggested time to leave for next meetings, and other one for ten minutes before meetings.

After finishing this …

I decided to summarize my presentation and publish it. In the end, this exercise didn’t allow time to get feedback from others. If you have thoughts, please feel free to reach out. Thank you very much for taking a look!

Follow on Medium: https://uxdesign.cc/intuitively-scheduling-international-meetings-a-4-hour-ux-challenge-d3758ae94a00

References

20 Vetted Tools and Tips for Managing Time Zone Differences

Spacetime’s visual schedules | ReallyGoodUX BY APPCUES

Spacetime | Slack App Directory

Never use a time zone converter again | SpaceTime

Doodle — Make meetings happen

Productivity tutorial: Using Doodle for easy group scheduling | lynda.com

What a 19-Hour Nonstop Flight Can Teach Us About Jet Lag | WSJ

QANTAS’ NEW YORK TO SYDNEY NON-STOP RESEARCH FLIGHT SET FOR TAKE-OFF | QANTAS

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