A Performing Medium for Working Group Graphics

1.3 Methodological assumption

It is a major premise of this paper that text-graphics performed for working groups have spatial and temporal structure. First, the images themselves are spatial, and arranged spatially. Second, the manipulation of these images takes place over time and so has temporal arrangement. And third, both kinds of arrangement are orderly and patterns can be discovered.

The more radical extension to this premise is that the text-graphics themselves can be studied separate from their context. That is, the social situation of working group graphics is a group in a room together with a common display; in conjunction with the text-graphic performance the group members talk to each other and use their bodies to gesture and point. Without question the concomitant aural and gestural annotations are crucial to the overall meaning of the performance (probably best studied through video taping). But the premise here is that the manipulation of the text-graphics themselves constitute an orderly phenomenon that can be supported and studied: in a sense, the text-graphics have a life of their own. The study of this aspect of text-graphic performances, in isolation, is much like linguistics: a quest for temporal and spatial structures of the expressions themselves 2. It is also like an odd kind of dance choreography which attempts to notate improvised dances.

In terms of the text-graphics themselves, then, the notion of style is one way of labelling certain spatial/temporal structures. There are many different ways (styles) of operating displays in order to help a face-to-face group. Styles can be characterized by, among other features, distinctive patternings of static images (visual languages like charts, diagrams, matrices, lists) and distinctive dynamics (sequences of images and manipulations). Skilled practitioners (like Ball, Brunon, Doyle, Sibbet, Straus) provide a good reference for styles; they each have defined many distinct ones. Part of an operator's skill is matching a style to a group and a task.

In conclusion, we note that de-situating the text-graphics from the working group situation must be done carefully and under advisement. It is a methodological move, and in the long run may lead to problems. In the short run, however, it has two payoffs. First, it allows us to focus on the text-graphics themselves to see what structure is there 3. Second, it is a direct way to describe the specifications for a computer-based medium to support this kind of text-graphic manipulation.