, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 221–232

The WALL: participatory design workspace in support of creativity, collaboration, and socialization


    • Project Based Learning Laboratory (PBL Lab)Stanford University
  • Petra Bosch-Sijtsema
    • BIT: Work Psychology and LeadershipAalto University
Open Forum

DOI: 10.1007/s00146-010-0307-1

Cite this article as:
Fruchter, R. & Bosch-Sijtsema, P. AI & Soc (2011) 26: 221. doi:10.1007/s00146-010-0307-1


A key challenge faced by organizations is to provide project teams with workspaces, information, and collaboration technologies that fosters creativity and high-performance team productivity. This requires understanding the relation between and impacts of (1) workspace, (2) activity and content that is created, and (3) social, behavioral, and cognitive aspects of work. This paper describes an exploratory study of everyday activities in the context of knowledge work in a shared workspace used by a high-tech global design team that explores future products. The study formalizes key elements for productive knowledge work as a function of tasks, context, and team. It identifies enablers, hindrances, and requirements for physical, virtual, and social work environments. The study identified, through semi-structured interviews, surveys, and on-site shadowing, a key workspace component that facilitates dynamic participation of all team members. This workspace component is a wall used as a large, public, physical display surface for project content (the WALL). The WALL acts as a mediator for individual reflection-in-action and team reflection-in-interaction. It serves as “social glue” both between individuals and between geographically distributed subgroups.


Global teamParticipatory design workspaceCollaboration

1 Introduction

One of the key challenges faced by organizations is to provide project teams with workspaces and information and collaboration technologies (ICT) that can foster creativity and high-performance team productivity. This requires an understanding of the relation between and impacts of (1) the workspace, (2) the activity and content that is created, and (3) social, behavioral, and cognitive aspects of work. Knowledge work involves creation, application, and sharing of knowledge by highly skilled practitioners who have autonomy in their work and use ICT in order to produce complex, intangible, and tangible results in support of the organization’s goals (Bosch-Sijtsema et al. 2009).

This paper describes an exploratory study of everyday activities in the context of knowledge work in a shared workspace used by a creative high-tech, global design team that explores future products. The research objective of the study is to understand and formalize key elements for productive knowledge work as a function of tasks, context, and team, and identify enablers, hindrances, and requirements for physical, virtual, and social work environment. The study identified a key workspace component that facilitates dynamic participation of all team members. This workspace component is a wall used as a large, public physical display surface for project content. This wall, we will call in this study the WALL, is embedded in the center of the team space and acts as a mediator for individual and teamwork. We present the methodology for data collection that included semi-structured interviews, surveys, and on-site shadowing of the team members and discuss the findings from the data analysis.

The study is based on the bricksbitsinteraction framework. It is at the intersection of the design of physical spaces, i.e., bricks; rich digital information and collaboration technology (ICT), i.e., bits, and emergent work practices, process, and new ways people behave in communicative events using the affordances of their physical workspace and ICT, i.e., interaction (Fruchter 2001). We believe that if we better understand the relationship between bricks or physical space, bits or virtual space, and interaction or social space, we will be able to (1) design workspaces that better address and adapt to the communicative events and activities performed by knowledge workers, (2) develop ICT that support natural communication idioms among knowledge workers as they perform their tasks, and (3) engage knowledge workers in richer interaction experiences. Any change in one of the three aspects will impact the other two. Consequently, it is critical to take a bricksbitsinteraction-integrated approach in the analysis of the current state of practice and the creation of future work environments.

2 Related work

The theoretical points of departure for this study include: design theory and methodology, knowledge management, and development and use of interactive workspaces in support of collaborative work.

Literature suggests that design work depends on ongoing and subtle social interactions and on transformation work involving design artifacts (Button and Sharrock 1996; Perry and Sanderson 1998). Previous accounts of design and engineering work point to various ways in which design work depends on communicative activities (Bucciarelli 1988; Perry and Sanderson 1998; Rosenberg 2005). A second key dimension of design work involves the use of artifacts (Perry and Sanderson 1998). According to these authors, artifacts allow the externalization and representation of objectives, constraints, form, function, assembly, materials, and so on. According to Bucciarelli (1994), artifacts are the objects of interaction and serve an important role as communication resource (Perry and Sanderson 1998). Perry and Sanderson (1998) found in their study of design case studies that artifacts form a part of the process of product design while at the same time, orienting the participants to the co-operative aspect of their work. Secondly, they found that interactions between designers and other resource holders, and the way in which a variety of artifacts and design tools are used and created are key dimensions of the design process. Visual representations and artifacts act as the means for organizing the design to production process, hence serving as “social glue” both between individuals and between groups (Henderson 1991).

Brereton discusses the different types of design representations and the significance of hardware in developing and conveying ideas (Brereton 2004). Logan and Radcliffe (2004) emphasize the importance of physical artifacts, including existing products and prototypes as part of the design environment in product design and manufacturing companies. Product development entails numerous movements across the boundary between physical artifacts and more abstract conceptual representations such as sketches, diagrams, drawings, and lists.

Schön (1983) studies the design practice of single practitioners, i.e., architects, as they tackle unique tasks. He introduces the concepts of knowing-in-action. When knowing-in-action breaks down, the designer consciously transitions to acts of reflection, coined reflection-in-action by Schön (1983). Both knowing-in-action and reflection-in-interaction are central activities in the design process. Schön refers to this process as a reflective conversation with the situation, during which designers reflect by naming the relevant factors, framing the problem in a certain way, making moves, i.e., often modifying the design solution to address some of the identified problems, toward a solution, and evaluating those moves or proposed modification. Schön’s theory of reflection-in-action of a single practitioner is further extended to define reflection-in-interaction for the case of multidisciplinary project teams in which multiple participants engage in a communicative event (Fruchter et al. 2007b). Their work and cross-disciplinary interaction is mediated by the use, manipulation, and correlation of artifacts such as blue prints, sketches, digital or, physical building models. Their interactive process consists of: identifying the relevant factors in all disciplines through exploratory sketching and discussion; correlating these factors across disciplines and documents; exploring alternatives across disciplines; and assessing alternatives and their implications across disciplines.

Project team members use and produce a vast amount of data, information, and knowledge during the creative design process. Davenport and Prusak (1995) state that data and information become knowledge through comparisons, conversations, connections, and consequences. Knowledge transfer among team members that are collocated, and remote is critical. Knowledge transfer is the process through which one unit is affected by the experience of another (Argote and Ingram 2000). Knowledge transfer can be perceived as explicit (codified) and tacit (deeply rooted) knowledge (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995). Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) developed a knowledge creation theory with four conversion processes of knowledge for sharing and developing knowledge. (1) Socialization (Tacit-to-tacit knowledge) in which individuals acquire new knowledge from others by observing experts in action. During this process, shared mental models and skills are created. (2) Externalization (tacit-to-explicit) is the articulation of knowledge into explicit concepts, typically in a situated fashion. (3) Combination (explicit-to-explicit) is a combination of different forms of explicit knowledge shared through documents, artifacts, and conversations. (4) Internalization (explicit-to-tacit) is related to learning by doing, individuals internalize the learned knowledge. According to the authors, there is a continuous interaction between tacit and explicit knowledge, starting at the individual level and moving up through communities of interaction toward inter-organizational knowledge creation. A significant challenge for knowledge transfer is when project team members are remote from each other (Allen 1977) or geographically distributed. Belloti and Bly (1996) studied distributed design teams and found that much of the work done by the designers took them away from their desks which benefited local collaboration greatly while hampering remote collaboration.

Research studies and corporate solutions have developed interactive physical and digitally augmented workspaces to support knowledge creation and sharing among team members during their communicative events that take place in collocated or distributed settings. Rosenberg (2005) studied complex information environments focusing on issues in knowledge management (Rosenberg 2005; Coakes et al. 2008). Some of the industry case studies Rosenberg observed were located on large construction sites where the project used a large wall to post a paper print of the project schedule. Opposite to this wall was a large window overlooking the construction site. This allowed team members to constantly compare the actual situation with the scheduled activity posted on the wall and have an evidence-based common ground building environment. Fischer et al. (1998) studied design–construction information workspaces observing collocated paper-based project team meetings, interactions, and activities during the meeting to define requirements for future interactive workspaces. Chachere et al. (2003) studied a collocated project team (about two dozen design and engineer experts) at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engaged in extreme collaboration for a fixed number of days using a hybrid interactive environment in which there were three large project screens to share the different data, information, and models, and each team member had a workstation running the specific modeling and simulation tools.

During the past several years, many research laboratories and corporations have developed and used large, wall size, interactive display surfaces for collaboration in diverse settings, from the space industry (Trimble et al. 2003) to design and construction industry (Khemlani 2009). These interactive digital workspaces allow project teams to meet and create, view, annotate, capture, and share information for science and engineering purposes. Wang and Blevis (2004) found in a study on collaborative collocated design work the importance of different types of displays. Their observations indicate that seating arrangements, being able to reach the display easily, allowing participants to work simultaneously on a display, importance of physical objects, large displays, and level of privacy is important as well as the orientation of documents. Studies of the degrees of engagement in geographically distributed project teams using technology-augmented interactive workspaces show that the interaction dynamics between people, content, technology changes, forming invisible zones of action, reflection, and observation (Fruchter 2006). Such interactive workspaces allow accelerated problem solving and decision-making, exploration, evaluation, and combination of data, information, models, and knowledge. Interactive workspaces facilitate visualization and direct manipulation of content from diverse disciplines critical to the issue at hand and navigation through large corporate archives to retrieve relevant information (Fruchter et al. 2007a). However, these technology-augmented workspaces are used for fixed amounts of time during scheduled project meetings. This paper presents a study of a large wall that serves as a public, situated physical display surface embedded in the workplace of a creative design team. It presents relevant insights that can inform the design of the next generation interaction space.

3 Case description

We used case study methodology (Eisenhard 1989) to study collocated and distributed project teams in global high-tech Fortune 500 companies. We present our observations of two subgroups that were part of a larger design team that was geographically distributed in US, Japan, and a Nordic EU country. We interacted with team members at two locations—in the US and in a Nordic EU country. The team was inter-disciplinary bringing experts from diverse domains together, such as user interface and interaction design, industrial design, arts, graphic design, prototyping and hardware modeling, new media, ethnography, and economics.

The US subgroup was composed of eleven people, one of whom was the design team leader. All of them were collocated (100%). Nevertheless, they interact and collaborate with the subgroup in the Nordic country and Japan. Each team member had a dedicated cubicle. Team members were in close proximity to each other in a larger space. The cubicle partitions had a window shape opening allowing for visibility of all the other team members. A wall, which is the center of our discussion in this paper, played a central role in displaying and sharing their ideas as well as supporting informal interaction (Fig. 1a). The WALL was embedded in the dedicated team workspace. This workspace configuration allowed for a fluid flow and provided visibility and access to people and artifacts displayed on the WALL. The team used video and teleconference rooms for global team meetings. They developed prototypes in laboratories that were in a different building 30-min driving distance. The fact that the laboratories were remote from the dedicated team space was a significant hindrance as the team members expressed during the interviews and in the surveys. Driving requires planning and takes away time from direct work. It creates a remote collaboration condition. It disconnected the people and artifacts in the team space and the prototypes they were building in the laboratories. It also impacted interaction with team members that need to go far from their team space.
Fig. 1

Team space configurations: a US site; b Nordic EU site

The Nordic EU subgroup was composed of four people, one of whom was the local subgroup leader. They were all in close proximity, each having a desk in an open-space area. They added two vertical display walls by their team space and remodeled a former meeting room that was adjacent to their team space by taking off the door and partition wall to allow for direct visibility to the artifacts and ideas they posted on the walls. This created an open and inviting transparent project space for the team members to interact (Fig. 1b). They used video and teleconference rooms for global team meetings.

Figure 2 illustrates the asymmetric distribution of team members’ expertise and years spent working at the specific company. The paper will further discuss the affordances and limitations of the workspace and collaboration technology infrastructure that had an impact on interaction and knowledge transfer across the subgroups that were geographically distributed.
Fig. 2

Distribution of expertise and years spend with company

4 Data collection

We collected data through semi-structured interviews, surveys, and on-site shadowing of the project participants. The interviews focused on individual’s role and responsibilities in the team, their work, people they most interact with, workplace experiences, hindrances, and enablers related to different workplaces. Individual interviews took 1 h per person. Interviews were taped and transcribed. We interviewed the project manager of the team who was located in the US site and the team leader of the Nordic subgroup. We shadowed for an hour an online distributed team meeting between the US and Nordic subgroup members and for 12 h team interactions of the US subgroup in their workspace.

The surveys focused on job background information of team members and team, productivity, and workplace. Surveys were delivered online. The response rate was very high—between 100% for survey 1, 92% for survey 2, and 69% for survey 3. Shadowing entailed following and observing both teamwork in collocated and distributed settings and individual work.

5 Data analysis and key observations

The three data sources i.e., semi-structured interviews, surveys, and shadowing provided quantitative and qualitative data that allowed us to triangulate and validate our findings. They provided the perception of the knowledge workers about their work environment and productivity through interviews and surveys, and factual data though surveys and shadowing regarding enablers and hindrances of the work environment, i.e., physical/bricks, virtual/bits, and social/interaction spaces and places.

From a methodological point of view, we used for the shadowing the floor plan of the site to mark up the routes, tasks, locations, and people the individuals go to, work at, use, and interact with, respectively. We transcribed the dialogs captured during the interviews and shadowing sessions. We processed and synthesized the survey data. We performed a temporal bricksbitsinteraction analysis (Fruchter 2001) to understand the enablers and hindrances of the work environment. The temporal analysis consists of the following criteria: time, dialog transcript, dialog and activity analysis (e.g., sketch, explain, point, inform, solve problem, negotiate, decide), ICT used in the session, artifacts brought to the session, used, or created during the session, location of session or activity, interaction between participants engagement or hindrance to engage in the interaction, work space configuration including furniture and movement of participants with regards to each other, content, artifacts, ICT, and furniture. Figure 3 shows a segment of such a temporal analysis during a video/teleconference session between the US and Nordic sites.
Fig. 3

Example of bricks, bits, and interaction temporal analysis based on shadowing data

A number of key observations were synthesized from the data analysis. It is important to note that all team members were knowledge workers who were highly motivated and committed to produce high-quality designs. They reported very high job satisfaction, individual, and team performance, and most importantly high level of trust within the team. Surveys revealed that the key motivations for knowledge workers to come to work were to work and informally interact with colleagues, use facilities such as laboratories, and build team identity. They reported that their typical daily work distribution was 50% individual (solo) work and 50% collaborative work. A key workplace enabler was the visibility and proximity to team members and the fluid transitions between dedicated desks and project team area by the WALL. As team members from the US site noted in the survey,

Having the proximity to people I work with is important,

This statement reconfirms Allen’s (1977) observation that proximity to team members matters.

The most productive work places for individual (solo) work and teamwork are the project team areas (Fig. 4), specifically the area around the WALL (Fig. 1). Our study identified the WALL as a central element that acts as a mediator for individual reflection-in-action and team reflection-in-interaction. Figure 5 provides an instance of the team space around the WALL in the US site. Examples of material posted on the WALL include photographs of places, buildings, people, and settings studied by the design team, Postit notes with ideas, prototypes, models and concepts, 3D models, brainstorm ideas and concepts, figures, statistics, sketches and drawings, pictures of products and designs in different stages. These items are constantly manipulated, organized, and reorganized by team members as their projects evolve. It is important to note that all the material is analog. There is no digital display that is part of the WALL.
Fig. 4

Survey results related to the most productive workplace
Fig. 5

Instance of the team space and the WALL in the US site

We defined a series of use patterns, affordances, and hindrances related to the WALL, which we describe in the following in the form of vignettes based on shadowing the knowledge workers during their daily activities in their team space.

5.1 Interaction enablers

In analyzing the data, we identified a number of specific interaction enablers posed by the WALL.

5.1.1 Local visibility

We analyzed how far the individual desks are from the WALL, how often the knowledge workers go to the WALL, how long they stay there, and what activities they perform there. The workspace configurations and the WALL that is embedded in the team spaces provide direct access and visibility to all local team members and content displayed on the WALL (Fig. 6a). In the US site, the team has a couch in front of the WALL for informal meetings and brainstorming sessions. All individual desk spaces are at a short distance (about 4 m) from the WALL, allowing for fluid transition from individual private workspace to the shared, public WALL workspace. As the team leader noted,
Fig. 6

Use patterns of the WALL as a large shared display surface and interaction scenarios

People stop by and talk in front of the wall, the fluidity is important. Last year we had a big project, which was rather public and had a lot of visitors coming over. We presented the project to the visitors in front of the wall. This was more informal and more visible. If we would have project rooms, we would lose the fluidity, which is currently around the wall.

Team members go to the WALL a couple of times per day. The amount of time they spend in front of the WALL depends on the phase of the project and tasks at hand, from minutes to a couple of hours per day.

5.1.2 Shared tangible display and work space

The WALL was used as shared, public, and situated display surface where all team members would pin up sketches, concepts, post-it notes, images, diagrams, prototypes, and other collected artifacts related to their projects. The WALL allows for immediate, direct manipulation of the content pinned up on the WALL. The displayed content changes dynamically as project team members collect, annotate, discuss, brainstorm, and reflect on the displayed information, organize, re-organize, replace, and store the artifacts that are pinned up as the project progresses from concept to prototype development phase. The display is situated in the context of the collocated team members, pinned content collection, the edits and manipulations done by team members that make the individual and collective thought process transparent (Fig. 5).

In addition to project content, the US subgroup posted a large WALL size paper calendar for all to use and mark up when they are away, travel, have meetings, or visitors are coming. This is an effective way to make their availability and activities visible. However, this WALL calendar is not visible to the Nordic team members. The company has an outlook calendar, but it is only used on project basis. There is no calendar for the whole team. The large, local, shared paper calendar provides an immediacy and tangible interaction. During our shadowing observations, we could see many walk by and take a look at the calendar, one team member came by and filled out a date for their new idea for the team to have a monthly library day to read; others jointly check specific dates through the window opening of their cube at their desks; others check their online calendar to update the shared WALL calendar.

5.1.3 Engaging teamwork

The workspace in front of the WALL facilitates engaging teamwork and reflection-in-interaction (Fig. 6b). In front of the WALL, there is a couch for informal discussions and brainstorming. This is a very dynamic and engaging workspace. Team members congregate around the visible shared artifacts on the WALL; interact with the displayed material that triggers further dialog. Note, even though the floor is simple concrete, the people are so engaged in discussion and creative problems solving that they forget about the low-end infrastructure of the facility and sit on the floor spreading out material.

Team members also engage in small group discussions in front of the WALL. Others who pass by may join the discussion and contribute for short periods of time. Table 1 provides an example describing a small group interaction in front of the WALL.
Table 1

Example: small group interaction in front of the WALL


Transcript/notes or quotes

Speech act/activity


Location floor plan

Furniture/ICT, people configuration

9.00 Long meeting

Members X and Y discuss project

Presentation of ideas

Papers on the display WALL

Sitting on couch in front of WALL

Sitting on couch and walk back and forth toward to WALL


Ad hoc meeting on couch

Member Q joins

Short discussion on project on WALL

Sharing of ideas

Papers on display WALL

Couch in front of WALL

Ad hoc and informal talk. Member Q came passing by, stopped to talk to Members X and Y on couch


Member Q leaves

Members X and Y on couch

Sharing of ideas

Brain storm and inform

Discuss notes, papers on display WALL

Wall and couch

Show, point on WALL, walk to WALL and back. Member X makes annotations on papers on WALL


Members X and Y still in front of WALL

Sharing of ideas

Pictures/slides on display WALL

Couch, display WALL

From wall step back to couch and sit down again


Members X and Y still on couch

Member X gets laptop notes to write/share ideas on WALL

Use post-it notes of different colors, writing with pen on WALL material



Member X puts yellow post-it notes on the WALL

Brainstorm, decide on some ideas

Member Y asks questions and points to material on WALL

Post-it notes and pen


Laughter, informal atmosphere


Members X and Y walk away

Member X comes back with notebook and coffee

Member X writes down all notes, ideas from the WALL in notebook

Notebook, pen (writing)


Member X on couch writing Member Y at desk working solo Member K coming to couch standing between couch and Member Y’s desk


Members: K, X, and Y talk informally

Sharing information


Member K walks away after short while Members X and Y continue talking in front of the couch and desk

5.1.4 Individual reflection-in-action

Team members spend extended amounts of time (3–4 h) in front of the WALL engaging in individual work, quiet time, immersed in the material, thinking, creating, synthesizing, organizing, and reorganizing content and ideas from discussions with team members (6c). Following is an excerpt from the study notes that describes the observed activities and the time spend in front of the WALL by team member Z (Table 2). It is a typical reflection-in-action activity according to Schön, where the designer has a mental “conversation” with the evolving design.
Table 2

Sample shadowing notes showing example of individual work in front of WALL


Member Z sits on the couch with laptop. Watching the brainstorm material on the WALL, making notes


Member Z is making PowerPoint pictures based on yesterday’s discussions and morning conference call with the Nordic subgroup leader


Member Z is still on the couch working alone, looking at the material on the WALL, thinking, putting post-it notes on the WALL


Member Z is still on couch, working on slides


Member Z still on couch, looking at WALL, thinking. Deep concentrated work


Member Z is done, goes to his desk to finalize the PowerPoint slides

5.1.5 Serendipitous interactions

Colleagues often pass by the WALL and observe what other colleagues work on and even though they are not part of that project team, they provide advice or feedback from the perspective of their field of expertise. These serendipitous encounters that allow for knowledge exchange are facilitated by the WALL and its embeddedness in the shared team space, since the content and activity of colleagues becomes transparent. Figure 6d illustrates diagrammatically such an instance where one of the team members is standing in front of the WALL working on his project material. He is a prototyping expert. Another colleague who is a graphic designer walks by to get some tea. She is not working with him on that project. She stops, looks at the WALL, and they briefly discuss the project and the model. She listens and provides some feedback and walks away (Fig. 6d). This brief interaction took 10 min. The WALL proved to be an excellent example of a shared, visible space where all projects are transparent to all team members. It allows them to contribute, transfer knowledge, and engage in problem solving and exploration.

5.2 Interaction hindrances

In analyzing the data, we identified a number of hindrances posed by the WALL. These hindrances can become opportunities for the design of the next generation team spaces. Our findings focused on the interaction experience mediated by the WALL and the content displayed on it, and issues related to knowledge capture, sharing, and re-use.

5.2.1 Mixed media

Our observations and interviews show that team members collect, create, and display on the WALL data and information that is typically printed on paper and physical products, and prototype models. In addition, they collect and create digital information and models. These cannot be displayed and shared on the public WALL space. Consequently, the project content displayed on the WALL does not represent the complete set of project information resources available at different stages of the project. A WALL that would enable the display of mixed media and would have diverse display surfaces, such as, board to pin up printed material, interactive touch displays, and HDTV displays for multimedia content e.g., videos and 3D CAD models, could provide a richer interaction and exploration experience.

5.2.2 Knowledge transfer

We observed situations where the existing workspace and ICT did not allow the knowledge workers to make their local WALL content and conditions visible to their remote team members, such as sketches on paper, diagrams, prototypes, and most importantly communicative events. This hindered knowledge transfer and real-time interactions. Team members in each geographic subgroup had to synthesize the content on the local WALL in the form of a power point document, or take a picture of the local WALL, and email it to the other subgroup (Fig. 7). The power point information was valuable. However, it lacked the context of the discourse and thought process behind the formal document that was transmitted. As reported by the Nordic team members,
Fig. 7

Geographic distribution impedes knowledge transfer

it is not possible to share the walls… Today there is a printout of a presentation on the wall (being deconstructed and explored) and images of a wall in US site (superimposed with our thoughts locally).

Figure 7 illustrates the different distances of team members with respect to the different WALLs, from local WALL proximity, to time and space distance between the two locations, and the constant activity of throwing over an imaginary brick wall a summary of the rich content that is posted on the local wall. The latter typically takes the form of a power point presentation, a set of still images of the WALL content. However, the local context of the content is lost in the process of synthesis and formalization.

5.2.3 Temporary persistence of WALL content

The content displayed on the WALL changes dynamically as projects move from one phase to the next, typically every 2 weeks. During each phase, the content has a persistent presence that triggers team members to interact with it. Nevertheless, at the end of a project phase, the content from the WALL is taken off, piled neatly, and organized in a folder that is stored in one of the team member’s desk drawer. This material is no longer shared and easily accessible by the other team members. In addition, the contextual organization of the content that was displayed on the WALL is lost. Last but not least, the evolution of the content in context during the life cycle of the project is not captured. This is consequently a missed opportunity for knowledge capture, sharing, and possible future re-use both locally and globally within the larger design team and corporation.

5.2.4 Capturing content in context

The content displayed on the WALL is typically a trigger for reflection, dialog, brainstorming, problem solving, and decision-making. Our observations (Fruchter 2006; Fruchter et al. 2007b) show that a significant source of information behind decisions is embedded within the dialog of the communicative event. Capturing the content displayed on the WALL in the context of the dialog would provide a multimedia knowledge resource for the people engaged in the dialog as they may desire to play back parts of the dialog for the team members that were not present, as well as for future knowledge re-use within the corporation.

6 Conclusions

This paper describes an exploratory study of everyday activities in the context of knowledge work in a shared workspace used by a creative high-tech global design team that explores future products. We identified key elements for productive knowledge work as a function of tasks, context, and team, and identify enablers, hindrances, and requirements for physical, virtual, and social work environments. The method of observation is not without difficulties. Observers may change the situation just by their presence. However, by applying multiple sources of data collection (interviews, surveys and observations) and through data analysis triangulation, the method of observation was a suitable method for explorative research (Denzin 1994).

The study reconfirms observations made by other researchers regarding the importance of artifacts in the practice of design. Artifacts allow the externalization and representation of objectives. Artifacts are objects of interaction and serve an important role as communication resource (Bucciarelli 1994; Perry and Sanderson 1998). In our study, a wall (the WALL) that is embedded in the center of the physical team workspace and used as a large public display surface for project content plays a dual role as an artifact and communication resource. The WALL is a live artifact as its content is changing over time and a lively place where collocated team members engage in discussion, exploration of alternative solutions, and problem solving. The WALL acts as a mediator for individual reflection-in-action and team reflection-in-interactions (Fruchter et al. 2007b; Schön 1983). It is a place for the individual designers to spend time in deep thinking and creative exploration of solutions, as well as a space where team members congregate to create, display, think, discuss, explore, and solve problems, convey ideas, make the activities transparent. The visible content displayed on the WALL and the transparent activities of the individuals or teams allow for serendipitous encounters, contributions, and knowledge transfer. The WALL acts also as a transformative artifact since it impacts the work practice of the collocated team members by making their work content visible and their activities transparent it creates a fluid and dynamic interaction and engagement. It serves as “social glue” both between individuals and between collocated and geographically distributed subgroups.

In addition, the WALL supports the four activities that transform tacit and explicit knowledge described by Nonaka and Takeuchi’s (1995) knowledge creation cycle of socialization–externalization–combination–internalization. Collocated team members can observe others at work in front of the WALL, creating a non-intrusive socialization environment. The content on the WALL fosters team members to externalize their knowledge and combine ideas, experiences and new created knowledge during communicative events that take place in the WALL space. Finally, individuals take time to reflect and internalize the knowledge created and displayed on the WALL. However, the tangible physical characteristic of the WALL in each location leads to a significant knowledge transfer hindrance as only summaries in the form of power point and word documents are exchanged between the two sites. Consequently, the knowledge transfer through the non-intrusive socialization by the remote novice team members in the Nordic site observing and engaging in dialog with the expert team members in the US is missed. In addition, the opportunity to physically combine content displayed on the WALLs in the US and Nordic site is precluded.

Based on these observations and findings, we identified bricksbitsinteraction key criteria to be considered in the design and implementation of next generation physical, virtual, and social spaces. These include:
  • Bricks: proximity to the knowledge and social work network; tangible shared public display surfaces, embeddedness of laboratories in team workspaces; visibility and access to people in the knowledge and social work network; visibility of people’s local conditions; transparency of activity; and choice of a variety of spaces to support diverse activities and interaction experiences.

  • Bits: connectivity through small, medium, and large devices (e.g., smart phones, laptops, tablet pc, SmartBoard, HDTV) in a mobile knowledge work environment that is supported to ensure reliable, robust, accessible, affordable and available infrastructure anywhere, anytime. ICT that supports
    • Mixed media display and content creation, sharing, and reuse in globally distributed teams.

    • Capture, sharing, and retrieval of project evolution history.

    • Expression and visibility of people, activities, and local conditions and content.

    • Choice of diverse multimodal and multimedia communication channels.

  • Interaction: social interaction spaces and places in both the physical and virtual world that allow self-representation; visibility of roles and activities; formal and informal interaction experiences; and emergent work practices and processes determined by project teams.

Based on this framework and findings, we will consider performing longitudinal studies in the future to observe the temporal evolution of the WALL as projects start and progress through different phases.


This study is part of the Stanford University–Aalto University School of Science and Technology research project ProWork, sponsored by TEKES, corporate partners, and the PBL Laboratory at Stanford University.

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© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2010