A Performing Medium for Working Group Graphics

1.2 The phenomenon

First, the subjective impression after ten years of observing working groups is what we might call text-graphic dance: chunks of text and graphics created at one location on the display, lingering there for a while, and then moved or changed or erased; continually shifting patterns forming and reforming as the group goes about developing and displaying their concepts. An expressive performing art, the meaning of which is in all of the intermediate imagery, where the final frame may not be any more meaningful than the final position in a ballet. And finally, the impression is also of a performing art so horribly artifact-bound that text-graphic dance as it was `meant' to be is only glimpsed now and then through the clumsy media that circumstances force the performers to employ.

Next, to more objectively characterize the phenomenon underlying the three examples: a text-graphic performance to serve a task-oriented group. The performance is text-graphic in that it involves manipulating text and graphics over a set period of time. The performance serves the working group in that the images displayed during the performance relate to their task (present, represent, express, explain, diagram, show the structure of, mean). The performance is by an operator (or operators) whose purpose it is to insure that the performance serves the group.

We will call this kind of text-graphic performance "working group graphics". There are many other kinds of possible text-graphic performances that we won't discuss in this paper (a single operator for his own consumption, multiple operators for a play oriented group, etc.). There are many different possible styles of text-graphic peforming within the kind we have designated working group graphics. The use of the blackboard desribed above was called "Panoramic Design" by the practioners; that style can be described in more detail as brainstorm-and-then-do-machine-drawing [TAB62]. Styles will be discussed below.

There is various theoretical work which either deals directly with the phenomenon of working group graphics, or can shed some light on it. Having a common display often aids face-to-face task groups. Ball and Gilkey coined the term "explicit group memory" to point out the fact that the display provides a lingering representation of the task state [Ball72]. Graphical imagery seems to tap a powerful kind of conceptualizing: "visual thinking" [Arnheim69, McKim72]. The social dynamics of the working group may change for the better. Professional display operators like Brunon, Doyle, Sibbet and Straus point out that more of the group's members tend to participate in idea generation, rather than the concepts being controlled by the verbally and/or politically dominant [Brunon71, Doyle76, Sibbet76].