Online communication and collaboration tools are changing the way teams design products. The tools also generate a rich data source from which to study trends in communication. This paper focuses on how engineering teams utilize Slack, a popular team messaging software platform. We aim to better understand communication and coordination in product design teams via analysis of team social network dynamics, unique patterns of chat-like messaging (emoji usage), and the evolution of communication topics over time.

Our study analyzes the online interactions of 32 teams, sent during a 3-month senior undergraduate product design course. These 400,000+ messages represent the team communications from 4 years of teams, with 17–20 students per team.

We find that 1) Slack communications resulted in high density network maps, 2) network analysis of teams reveals that leaders have more central positions in the network, 3) strong teams have lower average centrality among members, equivalent to less public channel membership per person, 4) stronger teams use emojis at a higher rate, and 5) emojis are used most by leaders and highly connected members.

These findings represent preliminary foundations for best practices in online messaging, which may lead to more effective collaboration in product design.

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