Webex Calls - The importance of predictability in UX

Decorative Arrow Pattern

In these times where remote working is the new standard for many of us, corporate team messaging tools such as Slack, Teams, Discord, ... are relied uppon to get work done but also to develop a bond with new joiners and keep the existing ones alive through video calls.

Video call is a powerful feature. Done right, it can connect two or more people, help break the ice that remote working can create between coworkers, ... but done wrong, it can be a real disaster.

Let’s see how Webex designed its video calls and what we can learn from it.

What is the issue with Webex?

What does Webex look like

Before I reveal the issue here, let me just show you what Webex looks like

Screenshot of the user interface of Webex - on Mac oS 12.0/10
  1. Search, User status (online, in meeting, ...), ...
  2. Navigation Bar
  3. People, Teams and Spaces
  4. Contextual actions related to person, team or space selected
  5. Chat feed
  6. Phone services status

The issue

In Webex, to communicate with you, people can send you a message, set a meeting, or call you directly. If they choose to do the latter, take a look at the screenshot below and try to guess what (in the following options) will happen if you pick up :

Screenshot of an incoming call on Webex
  1. Their camera will activate
  2. Your camera will activate
  3. Your computer will self-destruct

Well, first of all, if you have selected 3, you’ve watched too much Mr Robot. If you have selected 1, you should be right, but in fact you are not. The answer is 2 : Your camera will activate.

That’s right, when someone calls you in Webex, it doesn’t matter if it’s a video call or an audio call, your camera will activate as soon as you pick up. The worst part is that you have no visual clue letting you know that you are about to be broadcasted live onto someone’s screen if you politely pick up.

Screenshot of a Webex call with my webcam activated without my consent

My webcam (as many others) have lights to let me know when its about to be used or being used. But as you can see on the left (before I picked up), the lights of my webcam are off. As soon as I picked up (picture on the right), you can see my webcam suddenly turns on.

Photo of my webcam showing how suddenly activates my webcam as soon as I pick up

Note : This issue doesn’t happen when a meeting has been set. When a meeting is programmed, a room is created, and you can join that room without being caught off guard by your camera.

My dear fellow Designer (and coworker) Thomas Drapeau who kindly accepted to play this game with me so I can take my screenshots, didn’t believe my clame. He thought there was something going on with my settings and that he never had this issue. So I propose to call him, and here’s what happened :

  1. I did a proper audio call on Webex (I clicked on the phone icon not the video one)
Screenshot of the steps to make an audio call in Webex
  1. Thomas' computer is ringing
Screenshot of an outgoing audio call made by me
  1. As soon as Thomas picked up, his camera activated
Screenshot of Thomas not realizing yet that Webex activated his camera
  1. Thomas realized his camera was on (and that I was right but let's not dwell on that part shall we)
Screenshot of Thomas realizing Webex got him

We all know working from home grants you a level of peace and ease you can only dream of when working from the office. That ease can manifest differently from a person to another : it may be being dressed as you please, working from any room (or the only one) in your apartment, ...

You are essentially being the person you are when nobody is watching, and the last thing you want when you are in that vulnerable state, is to let people see you without your consent.

I’m pretty sure you can see how this issue can cause some irreversible damage.

How can Webex direct calls be improved ?

Release 1 : Fix audio calls

The first way I can think of is simply making sure audio calls are actually audio calls and that they don’t activate the camera of the receiver

Release 2 : Pick up options

The second way to improve those calls is simply to let the user choose a way to answer no matter if the caller initiated an audio or a video call, :

  • Caller initiated an audio call

When a caller initiates an audio call, the receiver sees a notification of that call, and the following details : type of call (audio or video), caller's name, and call to actions (Answer, Decline, ...)

Design proposal of an incoming call notification in Webex
  • Caller initiated a video call

When a caller initiates a video call, the receiver sees a notification of that call, and the following details : type of call (audio or video), caller's name, and call to actions (Options to pick up via audio only or video)

Design proposal of an incoming video call in Webex

What can we learn from Webex calls’ design ?

The 2 main things we should take away from this case is the importance of :

  • System status visibility

System status should always be visible to users to let them know what is happening at every step along the way.

  • Predictability

A well designed system should behave how the user thought it would.

You don’t want your user to be in constant turmoil wondering where they are in the process, what will happen if they click on this button or that one. System status visibility and Predictability are efficient ways of building a trust relation between the system and the user.

For more about System status visibility and Predictability in User Experience, check :

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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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