Revamping the HC-Hive and learning what it takes to make a podcast

Co-Host, Writer, Editor | Georgia Tech MS-HCI Program | June 2020 - May 2021

Team: Harshali Wadge, Savannah Phillips, Austin Peete, Taylor Scavo, Matthew Lim

tl:dr

Background

PROBLEM

Don't want to read through this case study? Listen to our "behind the scenes" episode instead! 

The HC-Hive Podcast showcases stories about human-computer interaction, the user experience field, and the unique experiences of students in Georgia Tech's M.S. Human-Computer Interaction program. Topics varied from video game design and navigating career fairs to the physical prototyping and the importance of storytelling. In every episode, we interviewed current students to hear from their perspective, and of course, their hot takes. 

This podcast was started and originally hosted by Georgia Tech MS-HCI alums Jordan Chen and Su Fang. I briefly joined to help the team edit audio, and I ultimately inherited the podcast after they graduated. I wanted to continue the podcast but didn't know where to start. Armed with limited knowledge on what it entails to produce a podcast, I asked my friend and fellow student Harshali Wadge to help. However, we then faced multiple dilemmas.

 

How could we produce content that people actually want to listen to? Who are we going to interview? What topics would we focus on? And of course, how are we going to all of this remotely?

APPROACH

While trekking through the woods (read: neighborhood near Emory University in Atlanta), we discussed what we wanted to do with the HC-Hive. Would we keep everything the same? Would we do something completely different? Drawing inspiration from our favorite podcasts, we saw this as an opportunity to add our take to existing concepts. We wanted to stay true to topics related to the HCI and UX field, but we realized to stay motivated - and to get people to tune in - we had to make it fun. During our hike, we even planned and recorded our trailer to inform everyone that upcoming episodes were in the works. 

We ended up back at Harshali's apartment where we spent hours carefully planning out the new season of episodes. From guests and topics to which tools to use and even thematic episode titles, we drafted out what we wanted the HC-Hive took look like. Rather than focusing on the HCI and UX generally, we wanted to highlight our peers in the program. Our program was also known for its community, so we aimed to find ways to share that with a larger audience. 

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Pictured: Harshali working from a yoga mat. Me posing in the woods during our brainstorm walk. 

OUR PROCESS

Mapping Out Episodes

While the podcast included variety of topics across a season, there was a desire to make it cohesive. We wanted to use a theme that was flexible enough where listeners didn't have to listen to episodes in order. We brainstormed different tactics and ultimately settled on titling episodes based on references to films and literature. Some favorites included Silver Linings Sketchbook and The Devil Wears Data. 

Recruiting Guests

Harshali and I had ideas of what topics to cover, and we leaned on our peers to help us further develop these ideas. Sometimes we'd pick topics and then recruit guests, but sometimes we'd tailor topics based on our guests. For instance, we had more general topics like reflecting on the semester or navigating job interviews which many of our peers could speak on. In other cases, we learned of people who'd previously taken a game design class or had specific experience managing stakeholders at work. We also considered the grouping of guests to ensure that they have fun recording episodes with us!

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Pictured: Our spreadsheet of topics, guests, status updates, etc. Example of Harshali's recruiting message on Slack. 

Recording Audio

We had to be scrappy. Georgia Tech campuses allowed students to check out multimedia equipment from the library, but we soon realized that recording remotely would be differing audio quality between us and our guests.  Rather than opting for special mics, we stuck with our mobile phones. During our planning, we discovered Anchor, a platform for podcasters. With this tool, we simply sent our guests a shared link and recorded the episode from there. 

Recordings normally took about an hour long but could go longer if we had more follow up questions or tech issues. Once we got used to the process, we even had a welcome spiel and wrap-up message to let everyone on the call know how we'd record and when their episode would be published. 

Editing Audio

Recording the episodes were easy, but editing? That's a whole different story. I tried using Anchor's editing tool for the first episode but quickly realized that our recordings were pretty lengthy, and we needed something more powerful. I then switched to Audacity. Our approach to editing was to take out filler words (the "ums," "uhhs," "like," etc), bloopers, and then make any audio switches if guests changed what they wanted to say or redid their response. For some episodes, we encountered tech issues so those required additional volume leveling and *magic*.

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Pictured: Editing on Anchor on the left, editing on Audacity on the right. 

Distribution

After we were happy with the final edit, we added our intro track and were ready to distribute. Anchor truly made it easy for us to upload our podcast episodes. We were able to set up our account to automatically distribute to different platforms like Spotify, RadioPublic, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, and more. Some of these sites required additional registration steps to add names of hosts and editors, as well as images of our logo. 

TRIAL + Error

Looking back at our work with the podcast, it's safe to consider every episode as an "iteration." I remember how we started recording using both Anchor and Google Meet. But after awkward muting and unmuting, we decided to not use Google Meet since we didn't need to see each other. After all, it's podcast - let's embrace it for what it is. 

As Harshali and I continued hosting, we aimed for more of a discussion rather than prepping too many scripted questions. This allowed for more organic interactions between us and our guests. Our first few episodes included a "fun" question, but this eventually turned into our "hot take" segment, where we asked our guests to drop any big opinions they had about a given topic. Let's just say, we learned our peers had many spicy takes during our tenure as hosts. 

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Pictured: Snippet of an episode discussion guide.

GROWING THE TEAM (AND LISTENS!)

The HC-Hive gradually got more traction among our program and more largely at Georgia Tech. I credit this to mine and Harshali's shameless marketing tactic of highlighting that we're hosting a podcast to the classes we TA'd for (yes, we were those people). Some first-year HCI students then reached out to us to get involved. Savannah Phillips joined to take the lead on editing and enhancing audio quality. Taylor Scavo helped us draft discussion guides, Austin Peete sourced local music for us to feature toward the end of episodes, and Matthew Lim helped us with marketing. 

Over the course of the year, we grew the number of listens and were excited to see people from so many different countries tune in! Being a data nerd, I geeked out over Anchor's analytics. I enjoyed checking our dashboard to compare which episodes performed better, what devices were people listening on, and even unique vs. repeated listens. 

By the end of my time working on the HC-Hive, we gained over 3,900 listens across 45 countries!

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Pictured: Harshali and I shamelessly plugging the HC-Hive in our classes. Analytics of podcast episode performance. 

WHAT I LEARNED

Working on the HC-Hive was an incredible experience. Hosting and managing a podcast was something completely new to me, and the opportunity to co-host and work on a project with a close friend was a bonus. I learned how to use different platforms like Audacity and Anchor and further developed my interviewing and facilitation skills. I was so used to interviewing participants for a research study and had to quickly learn how to interview in a way that was a balance of highlighting our peers' experiences while also leaving room to share my own opinions.

 

Most importantly, I learned how to create a community through developing content. I was constantly amazed by the stories our guests shared, from funny anecdotes to moments of vulnerability when speaking on more sensitive topics. I owe it to our guests and listeners for tuning in and continuing to motivate us to produce more content. 

Special Thanks

Special thanks to...

  • our lovely podcast team for all of their great work, 

  • M.S. HCI Program Director Dr. Richard Henneman, who continued to provide his support throughout this project, 

  • the HCI Media team for helping us market any upcoming episodes on LinkedIn and Instagram, 

  • AND our peers in the Georgia Tech M.S. HCI program for sharing their stories.

We couldn't have done it without you! 

 

But enough about the making of the HC-Hive, check it out yourself here