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Surveillance within the workplace - Research project

Team: Dwight Stoddard, Logan Quinn, Dillon Baker, Maureen McLennon, Jane Yu


"A wearable sensor that can determine when a person is feeling content or happy"

This is a quarter long research project based on workplace surveillance as well as communication and happiness within the work environment. My contribution to this project was conducting interviews, research, analyzing data and recognizing trends, ideation, and user interface of the final product.


ProbleM Area: Why the office?

  • Prevalence of surface-level rel­ationships in close proximity
  • The office regularly brings individuals together, but meaningful relationships rarely develop. 
  • Job performance is positively correlated to job satisfaction
  • Happy people are consistently shown to be more productive.
  • Communication is an essential part of working in an office
  • Due to the communal nature of happiness, we felt that a space where regular communication occurs ideal

Subject Matter Expert: Clint Rule

Privacy in the Connected Workplace - 

Clint Rule (Associate Creative Director at Teague)

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Early in our research process we learned of Clint Rule who, in his final year at Savannah College of Art and Design, wrote his thesis on privacy and surveillance within the workplace. We had the opportunity to meet with him and discuss our problem space. Ultimately, his expert knowledge of how employees perceive and deal with surveillance gave us a greater understanding on what concerns need to be addressed in our solution. He informed us that coworkers respond better to surveillance when they directly benefit from participating and have a more democratic say in what information is collected and how it is used


Study OBjectives 

Research Question

  • Understand and identify existing methods of in-office communication
  • Understand privacy concerns
  • Investigate social barriers


Users and Context

  • 20-50 year olds
  • Employees of medium-to-large office settings

We chose to focus on medium-to large office spaces due to the presence of more coworkers who may not be uniformly familiar with one another.

Medium office spaces with an abundance of surface level relationships afforded us the best opportunity to increase trust between coworkers.

Secondary Research


  • Happiness is hard to define, and hard to tie to specific events, activities, or experiences 
    • Each person experiences happiness in a different way and in order to understand those individual experiences, we must tie the emotion to specific events and activities.
  • Technology and systems are already in place for collecting real-time happiness
    • There are already many systems in place that track happiness, however, many of these systems require massive amounts of user input and attention.
  • Happiness is communal
    • Happiness is something we share with others around us and is almost contagious. People who associate with other happy individuals can become happy and feel a greater level of satisfaction in life.

Research Participants

We interviewed 10 participants, all between the ages of 20-50 years of age from a variety of work backgrounds. Eight participants worked as employees, while the other two were positioned as supervisors.

30-45 min-interviews /// 15 min-circle of trust activity

We performed semi-structured interviews asking a variety of questions regarding the participants roles in the workplace, the process of communication, and how conflict is resolved. Many of the interviews strayed from the original script, allowing more impromptu questions and exploration of more unforeseen issues  that would not have originally been addressed. Due to the diversity of the interview participants, we were able to gather meaningful data regarding office environments and coworker relationships.

After the set of questions, we conducted a circle of trust exercise that allowed us to view the different levels of trust between coworkers.



In short:

Means of building relationships without damaging professional reputation —> Increased trust/openness in the workplace —> Groundwork for meaningful conversation in the workplace environment.

If we can provide a risk free way to facilitate personal connections in the workplace, we can break the social barriers, promoting trust on a personal level. This sets the stage for increased transparency and honesty in conversations like job satisfaction, office complaints, etc.

Employees don’t want to risk their reputation by sharing personal interests or details that might ostracize them from coworkers or employers.

Sharing constant happiness with your boss isolates people by rank and can be counter-productive to building trust. The right move for our product would be to put all coworkers on equal ground, eliminating both the artificial pressure and distance.

Circle of trust:

The circle of trust was an important tool throughout the interview process. The purpose of this activity was to allow the participants to share more information about their workplace relationships with specific figures (IT, manager, supervisor, CEO, etc). Allowing the user to inform us of their own "trust spectrum" with their workplace coworkers. The trust ratings were  based off of how comfortable the interview subject was with sharing personal information with coworkers.


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Design Principles

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Our original ideas all focused around helping communicate professional goals and job satisfaction with employees and employers. This was a response to research findings that showed people had difficulty communicating this without risking their personal reputation. We ran into problems when trying to maintain professional reputations and facilitate in-person communication, while somehow anonymously collecting happiness data. This approach pitted these principles against each other and left us in a tough spot without a clear solution.

Instead of forcing these conversations, we looked into building the trust necessary to have genuine, beneficial results from these conversations. We realized that limiting ourselves to linking professionalism and anonymity kept us from facilitating the face-to-face interactions that could built the trust necessary to break down these workplace barriers.

Initial Concept Areas

Each of our initial concepts fit into one or two of these types of interactions. Based on critique we found significant flaws in each area but also room for improvement.


Being alerted of your current happiness would be invasive and redundant, and could possibly ruin the genuine, subconscious nature of the emotion. Without the technology in place to track these causes of happiness, our product would be reliant on constant and intrusive user input. The benefits this product could provide to a user certainly would not validate the sheer amount of input it would require for gathering accurate and insightful data.


Our person-to-person solutions showed promise, but nonetheless had issues in need of resolving. Our solutions attempted to streamline relationship building by pairing people together to discuss personal topics. While this technically allows for communal sharing of happiness, it removes genuine formation of trust from the equation. 


Solutions specifically revolving around employee-boss interactions raise serious concerns about workplace privacy and interpersonal trust. These concepts inherently contradicted the need for personal ownership and maintaining professional image.


THe most pivotal move within this project

Inherently Contradicted Design Principles

Through our primary research and ideation we came to the realization that the biometric tracker was at odds with our core design principles. Reducing happiness down to a single data point opens the door for misuse and corruption, as well as strips it of meaningful information. This view of happiness as a metric could easily cause anxiety and competition within the workplace. Our research informed us how important maintaining a professional image is within the office environment. Any method of revealing this information could irreparably damage people’s workplace reputations and relationships.

Required Preexisting Trust 

We also found that sharing personal information such as satisfaction was dependent on a strong preexisting level of trust in the workplace. Our participants informed us that the majority of workplace relationships lacked the trust required to comfortably share this information. In order for these conversations to happen naturally, we needed to focus on building a foundation of trust between coworkers.



A solution that sets the foundation for meaningful in-office relationships through pre-existing mutual interests



  • Encourages conversations between co-workers about their mutual interests

  • Links are based on interests manually entered on iPhone

  • Links appear to each coworker simultaneously on smartwatch

The device is worn within and outside the workplace. It can dial into what activities and topics make you happy by monitoring your happiness levels and pairing that data with audio recognition.

After repeated instances of that activity taking place paired with high levels of happiness the device asks you if you like that activity and would like to add it to your interests. Sharing these interests would be filtered by the user. Any topic or activity would not be shared unless the user feels comfortable sharing it. We believe this will be more powerful than the user merely selecting their chosen interests because they could not try and choose things just because they thought others would find cool or interesting. Shared interests cannot be faked, because they are reliant on the device consistently tracking happiness correlated to those activities.

 Interests like “guitar” or “star wars” or “river rafting” can only be viewed by other coworkers who share those interests. At any time you can view your interests and who you are paired with, however you cannot directly contact them  through the application.

When in the workplace, users can now see shared hobbies and interests with their coworkers that will act as conversation starters. In a way these conversations serve as a ground floor of trust between coworkers that will establish a higher level of open communication within the workplace.

Conversations would take place throughout the day, with different pairs or groups of people, in an organic fashion to make them feel real and more meaningful. The conversation starters are meant to be unrelated to work and are meant to bring together people that might never have felt the courage or need to talk before.



When the system recognizes that multiple employees share an interest or activity, it selects a random business day to simultaneously notify both users of the match.

Once notified and with new knowledge regarding their coworker, users have the option to engage in face-to-face conversation about their shared interest.

The app encourages but does not explicitly force employees to pursue any interaction with one another. This allows for more genuine interaction between matched pairs that sets the foundation for a more meaningful work relationship.


The user begins by inputting interests via their phone in one of two ways. They can either search for their desired interest directly or browse through a list of categories in order to find activities and interests that do not immediately come to mind.

These interests and activities are stored within the app and remain private. Once the system matches them with a coworker, the mutual interest is visible to both parties.



  • After receiving a notification of a link with a coworker, the user may then select the smartwatch app.
  • Once launched, a page with the user’s most recent notifications are then shown, highlighted at the top. 
  • The user then selects their most recent notification of a connection made with a coworker, which navigates to a screen that is specific to that connection.
  • Within that connection screen, the user is then able to view previous connections made with that same coworker to remind them of other mutual interests.


Were we to continue with this project, a logical next step would be to perform user testing to ascertain the viability of our solution. It would also further inform us of how better to structure the application flow and any microinteractions. We would also consider performing another round of primary research to build upon the insights that we had already gained. With our current knowledge of our problem space, further interviews would be better crafted to understand how surveillance affects the workplace. Finally, more research could be targeted towards supervisors, and help us integrate a greater amount of their perspective into our design.

This project has been incredibly beneficial in teaching us the value of good design research. Not only should research inform you of your design space, but it should support your decision making and heavily influence your solution. With this knowledge, we are better prepared to approach future design problems and back up our reasoning.


Happy now?