Visual Languages for Cooperation


This work began in the early Seventies with the design of a series of non-computer performing media.

3.1 Wall Scroll

The initial system was developed by first inventing and then using the phrase ``Group Graphics'' as guiding light and problem definition. It was observed that groups of designers often wrote and drew together as part of thinking about a problem. Big pads of paper on a table could not be seen by everyone in a group, flip charts on a wall were too small, and black boards did not support color, high resolution or saving of images. The solution was the ``Wall Scroll,'' figures 1 and 2, a large sheet paper dispensing system for use by groups [Lakin71a].

Figure 1. The ``Wall Scroll,'' a large sheet paper dispensing system for use by groups.

Figure 2. The Wall Scroll in use for Group Graphics.

3.2 Vacuum Boards

Development of the next system was also guided by a phrase. The ``text-graphic loom'' was to be a tool wherein a person could weave text and graphics together in a fluid way in order to develop and display concepts [Lakin71b]. This workspace was to be operated by one individual at a time, with room for one or two others to view material and tell the operator how they wanted it manipulated.

The design solution meeting these specifications was the ``vacuum board''     - a vertical surface drilled with small holes on a one inch grid and a quiet fan pulling air through them. The low suction was sufficient to hold pieces of paper against the vertical surface, yet allow them to be moved easily on the surface. This system created a vertical desk for convenient displaying and shuffling of pages in manuscripts under construction. The vacuum board technology was augmented with three ring binders for long term storage of pages and a slide projector for limited group display. The resulting working environment was dubbed the ``Concept Workspace'' and is shown in sketch layout, figure 3.

Figure 3. Sketch of a ``Concept Workspace'' using vacuum boards to provide easy shuffling of vertically displayed paper pieces.

3.3 Group Cards

The design goal for the subsequent system was to give larger working groups the flexibility of vertical shuffling provided by the vacuum boards for the Concept Workspace. Since wall-sized vacuum boards were noisy, expensive and non-portable, another mechanism was sought. The solution turned out to be 5 by 8 inch cards with a waxed strip on the back allowing them to stick to the wall (similar to a product later marketed as ``Post-its''newfootthreeM). This system was first developed by Porter and Verger [Porter74]; then extended by Lakin with movable line networks and color overlays.

A five part strategy was evolved for using this Group Card medium in problem solving [Lakin74a]:

1. Generate cards
2. Use juxaposition to show relation of cards
3. Add color overlays to show relation of cards
4. Add connecting lines to show relation of cards
5. Shuffle cards around on the wall to shorten or remove connecting lines where possible, using juxapostion to show connection instead.

This technique was very successful in helping groups to generate a large quantity of ideas in brainstorm and then organize them, figure 4 [Lakin74b].

Figure 4. Problem definition session using manipulable cards to brainstorm, then organize.