Home Research Publications Classes Consulting My Lab

Research :

For the last several years I have been carrying out research in three different but complementary areas:

Theory of Interaction
Environment Design
Information Architecture

Theory of Interaction
I have been exploring the basic question of how people adapt the environment to simplify cognitive tasks -- how they create structure in the world to complement the way they project structure, and how they develop interactive cognitive strategies to reduce the mental load they must support when performing a task.To study these issues I have been:

a) Using and extending theoretical tools originally developed for other fields: amortized complexity from the theory of computational complexity, value of information from economics, case based reasoning from Artificial Intelligence, theory of action from philosophy of mind.

b) Introducing new theoretical concepts such as epistemic and complementary actions; and extending in new directions theoretical ideas about coordination first introduced by Ed Hutchins, Tom Malone, and others.

c) Designing a range of interactive experiments: studying how Tetris players both old and young acquire strategies as they improve, how people both old and young, re-organize lettered blocks, how they count coins, how they solve a block stacking problem, how they play scrabble, and how people cope with interruptions.

d) Observing the behavior of individual office workers, small teams of collaborators,and decision makers in command centers and business contexts. This represents a foray into ethnographic study, and I am working toward extending that method to natural but slightly more controlled contexts, semi-structured experiments.

Environment design
Based on these theoretical ideas and methods I have been trying to develop new principles for environment and workplace design particularly the design of smart rooms where there are many sensors and context aware computation, and digitally enhanced collaborative environments. These design principles blend virtual and physical elements to create new venues for people to work with each other and new ways for them to work with information (and computers). Some of these architectural studies have been purely theoretical, as my basic inquiry into the ontology of adaptive rooms, my theoretical paper on The Context of Work, and the position papers I am finishing on Future environments, and Context Aware Computing. Others, are based on my practical experience in teaching my classes at a distance, on early research with Jim Hollan and Ed Hutchins on annotation in workplaces, on an analysis of the impact of interruption on work activity, and from my recent projects studying distributed collaboration and augmented video. All focus on what it means for a workplace to be well organized for workflow; on how agents dynamically restructure their workspace to minimize cognitive effort; and on how individuals and groups use coordinative structures to improve their distributed cognition and help reduce their metacognitive burdens. My output is in the form of research papers and participation in design teams at the UCDC, the World Bank, The Global development Gateway, and also the very substantial learning environments I have been building for the last 5 years.

Information architecture
My third research area is information architecture, in particular the design of large scale web systems. Information architecture is one of the core elements of web design which I teach in my class on web design (Cognitive Aspects of Multimedia Design), and I have been fortunate in being the principle architect for several large web sites: the World Banks external site 1999 with over 100,000 pages, the World Banks intranet with over 350,000 pages, and most recently the Global Development Gateway (several 100s of thousands of pages), a site to support economic development and knowledge sharing in the developing world. I have had a long standing interest in information visualization and illustration. But more recently, partly as a consequence of teaching my web design class and my practical experience as an information architect for large scale web systems, I have become even more interested in how media interact to improve comprehension and navigation, and how we can design large information spaces that are usable. My most recent article is a long piece on Metacognition, Distributed Cognition and Visual Design, an essay on designing elearning environments to improve metacognition.

[ top ]