Do you know when to choose text over a call? Or worry about how to sign-off your emails? With so many different communication channels to choose from, digital conversations are a minefield of misunderstanding and uncertainty.

Designer Julia Leihener of Deutsche Telekom Laboratories’ Creation Center has created 101 Guidelines for e-etiquette. I spoke to Julia about how to practise effective online communication. You can listen to the interview or read the transcription below.

Julian Treasure: Julia, how did this come about?

Julia Leihener: We’ve been working at the creation centre of the Telecom Laboratories in order to develop future services for the telecom. We met a lot of users and consumers to find about their daily behaviour. What we found out is that there’s a great disorientation about which channels to use for which purpose, so that’s what motivated us to set a foundational research project – to find out more about the unspoken rules about using new media.

JT: So you’ve discovered these rules, not invented them?

JL: That’s correct. We’ve been doing lots of user research. We’ve been involved with kids, teenagers, digital natives, and hardcore users, as well as interaction design students from the RCA in London to really explore this whole topic. It’s not like we just sat down on a blank sheet of paper and wrote down some guidelines. There was a lot of debate and discussion around them to find a common sense method that we can agree on.

JT: Just to give people an idea, I’m going to read three out that got my attention.

1)     A quick phone call can circumvent the need for a frustrating email exchange.
2)     Only upload images which your mother would approve of.
3)     Only R2D2 can end a relationship digitally.

These are fantastic. There are 101 of these?

JL: Yes, there are. There are even more since we set up a website for this project. On this website we’ve put these 101 guidelines, and people have been commenting on them and they started suggesting own guidelines. So now there are around 250 guidelines to read and debate about. That’s what we really enjoy – that this platform is a space for people to reflect on this whole topic and to build it further.

JT: So this will become an online modern guide to etiquette, organic and growing with people’s suggestions?

JL: Right, and growing with digital development too. For example, when we started the project, there was no iPad out there, but what is the etiquette about the iPad? Is it okay to bring it to a dinner table and read while you’re eating? What are the dos and don’ts of emerging media? For example, FourSquare – is it okay to end a relationship via FourSquare?

JT: One hopes not! Well, it’s absolutely brilliant.

JL: We’ve also got a Facebook and Twitter site, and you can follow all our activities there. We’ve been travelling here to Edinburgh to show what we’re doing and there are a couple more activities ahead of us.

JT: Wonderful. I hope it spreads all over the world because we need this badly, so thank you very much, Julia.

JL: Thank you. I hope you will come and debate with us online. Thank you.

You can read more about the guidelines on the e-etiquette website.