WindowSwap, windows on the World

This article is available in French.

This past year has been one of the most challenging years of all. It altered our feelings and emotions deeply. Not being allowed to travel has taken away the joy and the excitement we all feel when we discover another place, another continent.

To make people feel less confined, Sonali Ranjit and Vaishnav Balasubramaniam decided to create WindowSwap. Their goal, “fill that deep void in our wanderlust hearts“. WindowSwap is a place on the internet for us to switch from views to views, windows to windows, all across the world. A place that allows us to travel, without a visa, without testing.

These moments, loud or silent, stir the pleasant and peaceful sensation to travel to the unknown. Away from the idealistic representation of places on Instagram, this website offers you a raw sight into people’s lives. Lives of ordinary people filming their window after diner or during breakfast. This gives us the opportunity, for about 5 or 10 minutes, to see Taipei’s landforms or Texas countryside. Going abroad, virtually, as the days are depressingly similar and we lose all notion of time, help us relax and escape.

It’s also a good opportunity for us to imagine what the world might look like after this absurd year. When the rhythm of life is inexorably pushing us forward, we have never wanted to look backward than today. When the photos founded in our phone’s camera roll stir the nostalgia and frustration inside of us, those thousands of videos serve as a cure for our own window we see way too often.

This what the Windows on the World are here for. To carry us far, to make us dream. Giving us access to impossible views. Like in the 107th floor of the North Tower in the World Trade Center, before 2001.

For Éclectique, Sonali and Vaishnav opened up about themselves, their life, their view and all the other windows.

Éclectique : Can you introduce yourselves ?

Sonali: Vaishnav and I currently live in Singapore and work in advertising. We are originally from India and are 32 and 36 years old. I work at BLKJ as an Art Director. And Vaishnav works at Leo Burnett as a copywriter.

When did you come up with the idea of WindowSwap?

In May, during the strictest part of the Singapore lockdown, Vaishnav and I were feeling a little antsy in our 1 bedroom apartment. We were scrolling through Instagram where we saw a video of a friend’s window view in Barcelona. I remember he was complaining about being bored of it (he was under lockdown too of course) – but it looked incredible to us. We were joking about how we wished we could just swap places with him, when we came up with the idea – if we couldn’t swap places, perhaps we could swap window views. And pretend we were somewhere else for a while.

We knew it was a really simple idea. And if we didn’t do it, someone or the other would. So we had to move fast. We rallied 16 of our friends from around the world to send us their window views and looked around for a freelance developer who was fast and affordable (since we were paying for everything out of our own pocket). From idea to release, it took roughly 3-4 weeks!

Sonali & Vaishnav view, in Singapour (© Sonali Ranjit)

About the design aspect of the project, what was the process like?

We tried quite a few designs. Some trendier and more graphic, some more clean and minimal. But eventually decided on the current design because we felt it looked warmer and cozier than the rest. We wanted the website to feel welcoming and human, almost like a home. Since essentially, we are getting a peek into the private life of the owner of the video. We also tried a few different images for the homepage, before landing on the current GIF of the out-of-focus window, which we loved because it suggested a window, but still remained mysterious about where the window was.

Exemple of the font Recoleta in use, on the website homepage (WindowSwap – Screenshot).

Vaishnav and I thought Recoleta (rather than a sans serif, which might have given a cooler vibe) was the perfect font to complement it. We made sure the design and UI were as restrained as possible so as not to clash or fight with the video. The window view would always need to take center stage.

How did you get your first users to post their windows? And how did it spread worldwide?

Like I mentioned, the first views were from our close friends. We put up an article on Bored Panda and contacted a few reporters – one article led to another. WindowSwap is now more successful than we ever hoped and we are so glad to have touched so many lives around the world.

How many submissions have you received?

Well, over 8000 submissions. And we’ve lost count of the number of countries and cities.

On the left, David’s window in Ottawa (Canada). On the right, Steve’s window in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan).

What did you learn from this experience?

WindowSwap is all about gaining a fresh perspective. About living life in another country, in someone else’s shoes, or just about seeing your own life with fresh eyes.

We think it really does help build more empathy for others, understanding and a sense of connection. And the sudden realisation that we are all more alike than we are different. Human beings are essentially the same at our core. In today’s world where we sadly are building more walls than bridges, we hope we can play a small role in fostering a bit of understanding!

Have people got back to you telling you about their own experiences?

Yes, we have a lot of lovely emails appreciating our website and it has made our year!
 People seem to come back to the site every day or a few times a week. And really feel a genuine sense of connection and appreciation with those who have shared their windows on the site. We’ve noticed a lot of teachers using it with their classes to teach creative writing, geography, or as an ice breaker. Artists use it as an art study. And of course, we’ve realized so many people are using it as a way to relax, zone out, or just swap the daily mundane of their lives, with the mundane of someone else’s!

What “powered by Vimeo” actually means, do they host the videos? Are they supporting you financially?

Vimeo does not support us financially. We do still pay for their Vimeo PRO charges to host the videos.
However since the number of views and streams are unusually high – they would have been in their rights to charge us for excessive streaming (the fees for which were way out of their means). Since we are a non-profit website, and they realized the calm and joy WindowSwap brings to the world, they were lovely enough to waive the extra fees. This is the reason we have “powered by Vimeo” on our homepage.

Do you plan on keeping the website online forever?

We honestly have no clue what the future holds! We are trying to figure out the next steps 🙂 We will keep it up as long as we can afford to, and people are interested in it!

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