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The design room

We all know the importance of software environments to help communicate and support the design team. This article focuses on the studies of the "design room" environment from Karat and Bennett, back in 1991. This study draws upon experience and techniques from a number of different fields: Collaborative Virtual Environments, HCI and usability practice, and CSCW (Computer Supported Cooperative Work). Today working in a design team supported by interactive technologies is normal but it wasn't widespread common 30 years ago.

The past shapes the future that is absolutely the quote of today's article, and it is interesting to see how a 30 years old study is now completely the normality for all of us. So usual, that we cannot even conceive a work environment without the support of interactive technologies. Let's go and have a look at the work of Karat and Bennett. As said, the design room was one of the first examples of a cooperative approach to working in a design team. The room supports design teams by providing an environment that allows them to explore ideas during the early stages of design. This has proved helpful in facilitating a user-oriented overview and in prompting communication, discussion, and generation alternatives. The room itself is big enough to hold between two and eight people. A variety of representations of design issues are posted on the walls.

  • Objectives for the system: goals, usability, and so on.

  • Guidelines for style.

  • Abstract, generic objects and actions: types of object, such as "containers", and actions, such as "copy".

  • Screen pictures: representative images extracted from current documentation, storyboard sequences, or design prototypes.

  • Resources and tools available for system construction: aids for software engineering, prototyping, or screen definition.

  • Sample scenarios: sequences illustrating the flow of specific user actions needed for a result, concentrating on what the user will see.

Image from Karat and Bennett, 1991


The design process is facilitated because the use of the room recognizes the importance of the social context of design, particularly the role of meeting facilitators, that is, people who affect communication between groups of people. The layout of the design is shown below and the summary of a scenario description is illustrated:

Image from Karat and Bennett, 1991


Effective communication requires access to each other and each other's ideas and partial designs, use of a common "language", for instance, a formal specification language, dataflow diagrams or ER diagrams, a way of tracking and recording ideas and decisions, and so on. Most importantly, however, it requires an environment that promotes ease of communication.

Photo by Pawel Chu on Unsplash