The project involved going through Behavioral Science Literature and finding out principles which could be applied to improve the popular chat client 'Google Talk'.

This project was part of my 'Fundamentals of Human Behavior' course at the School of Information, University of Michigan.

Literature review

While evaluating Gtalk, our main aim was to make the application as close to real world face to face interactions as possible.

We conducted an extensive literature review, and came up with several papers that state the fact that face to face interactions are of higher quality than social online interaction. Thus came about the redesigns.

Design objectives

  • Create a 'Friends Cloud' for filtering contacts.
  • Create ambience suitable to the context of the talk.
  • Add some Reminders to keep track of time.


Friends cloud for filtering contacts

A problem with Google Talk is that there is no filtration of messages. Often, a user is in a situation where he can only talk to specific people, and not to everyone. For example, when in office, the user would not like to be disturbed by friends and family, but would like to chat with colleagues. Also, we often interact more with people we are closely associated to. In a classroom, we know everyone, but choose to sit with our close friends. This cannot be done in Gtalk.

To solve this problem, we decided to incorporate a Contacts’ cloud . The chat system can display a cloud of contacts to the user, similar to a ‘Tag cloud’. The contacts with whom the user chats most frequently are displayed prominently in the cloud. The contacts could be displayed with photos or just names. Such a graphic interface will be more inviting and usable for the user, and will give the user an idea of his social interaction quotient.

GTalk friends cloud

Create an ambience suitable to the context of the talk

The low quality of interaction on the internet can also be due to the fact that when in person, we are in a different environment when we chat with friends, colleagues, or lovers. For example, when you are chatting with a colleague, you are in an office environment, and when you are talking to your lover, you are in a romantic setting.

We decided to incorporate these different real-life settings into Gtalk .Having different settings for different users will enhance the quality of interaction. When chatting with a colleague, the user can choose to have a formal office background, and while talking to his lover he can choose to have a romantic background. Not only will this give the user a better platform, it will also help him avoid errors such as mistyping, or sending the wrong message to the wrong person.


Reminders to keep track of time

Often, while chatting, we lose track of time, which can lead to overlooking other important tasks we might have to complete. Another feature that we would like to introduce to Gtalk is setting alert messages, that keep track of how much time you have spent chatting. Being able to set simple time alerts will make the user conscious of the amount of time he has chatted for. The user can set limits, after which an alert will be shown to him on his screen. This will help induce self control.


Work Performed



  • Usability analysis
  • Cognitive evaluation
  • Behavioral Psychology literature review
  • Design

  • Design recommendations
  • Lo-fi prototypes
  • Hi-fi prototypes
  • Presentation

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