Interaction designer focused on advanced analytics, data visualization, and other complex problems

Collaborative Meeting Spaces

David Starke


Computer and display technologies are frequently used in meeting situations as aids to a presentation. In these situations, there is usually one speaker, who drives the presentation and discussion. If there are multiple speakers or presenters, then they usually pass control to each other over the course of a presentation. Although this style of interaction is appropriate for many types of meeting situations, there are also many situations for which it is not well suited.

To illustrate a situation for which this style of interaction is not appropriate, I am going to take examples from the world of theater and the process of designing for the stage. There is a considerable amount of work that goes into planning and designing sets, lights, and other technical details before a show is produced, and theater directors and designers go through a process of meetings and discussions to share ideas, make decisions, and plan their future courses of action. These meetings have features which are not compatible with the style of interaction that computer and display technologies typically favor. For example, these meetings are typically collaborative design processes, rather than presentations. One participant may come with prepared material to present, but the presented material frequently becomes the immediate subject of a discussion, and this could lead to changes or new ideas. Also, the facillitator of the meeting is usually not the same person who is presenting. So, a designer may be presenting their work at one point, but the Technical Director will be in control of the meeting.

My goal in this paper is to describe an interactive workspace that will facillitate these types of collaborative design meetings, and will be better suited for them than the typical uses of technology in meeting situations.

The Layout of The Room

The meeting room consists of a table which has a display built into the surface. The meeting participants take seats around the edge of the table, and most of their discussions will take place from these positions. In additon to the table, the room may contain one or more large wall displays. Participants may decide to stand up and walk over to a display while talking, to illustrate a point. The displays might also be used as whiteboards for sketching designs.

Room Technology

Each participant needs to have some way of interacting with the table, and there are several possible ways to do this. One possibility is to use trackballs positioned at the edges of the table. Another (preferable) way is to have touch or pen input on the surface of the table. Since the participants are seated around the edge of the table and probably cannot easily reach the center, the touch or pen sensitive area only needs to cover a relatively small area of the table top near each participant. This relatively small area can then be used to control the behavior of any of the other display devices in the room.

The table and wall displays need to support at least two types of actions: presenting, and sketching. Presenting means being able to display previously created information, and sketching means being able to create new information or modify existing information. We can imagine an interface, then, that creates a mapping between each user’s active interaction area, and the display screens in the room.

Such an interface might look like this:
(sketches with descriptions coming soon)

In this type of interface, control of the computer and display technology is spread across all of the meeting participants, facillitating the collaborative environment necessary for the types of design meetings described above.

A Design Meeting in The Room

I am going to describe a design meeting in which the plans for the set design for a show are being discussed.

The Participants

Before I describe the progress of the meeting, it will be helpful to first have an idea of who the participants in the meeting are, and what their roles are.

(A note about the descriptions below: Although the names of the positions are common and well defined theater positions, their actual roles in this type of meeting may vary. So, even though all the positions described below are actual positions, and all the meeting roles described below are roles that would be filled in such a meeting, the mapping of positions to roles in any given staff will vary significantly from the descriptions below.)

  • the Director: the primary creative force for a show, in the sense that they are responsible for mainting the overall look and artistic vision of the show.
  • the Technical Director (TD): organizing force of the design and technical staff. Facilitates the meeting.
  • Stage Manager (SM): Organizing force of the entire show. In this meeting, their main role is to take notes, keep track of all decisions made, and introduce information from other meetings when relevant.
  • Set, Lighting, Sound Designers: These people are responsible for the design of a technical aspect of the show. They have to translate between artistic visions and technical plans that bring these artistic visions to life.
  • Master Carpener: the person who will be responsible for overseeing the set construction.

The Meeting Takes Place

At the start of the meeting, the TD gives an introduction introducing the topic of the meeting. The topic is a discussion of the preliminary set design, and so the participants’ focus shifts to the set designer.

the Set Designer has produced a set of sketches which show a number of set pieces he has designed. He also has a set of floor plans with the positions of each piece in each scene marked. In a traditional meeting, these would all be paper which would be passed around or passed out to the participants, but for this meeting, he has the sketches in electronic form.

The format of the meeting is going to be that the participants are going to go through the show scene by scene, discussing the relevant set designs for each scene. The TD asks for a discussion of scene 1.

Using his personal interaction area of the table in front of him, the Set desinger places the design sketches for scene 1 on the wall displays, while also placing the floor plans on the table display.

Since this is a preliminary meeting, not all of the set pieces have been designed yet, so a discussion ensues about what to do about the remaining pieces. At this point in the discussion, almost all of the participants in the meeting have relevant contributions to make to the meeting, and so a long and detailed discussion follows, augmented by sketches and annotations. Eventually, decisions are made and the discussion progresses, and meeting notes are maintained by the SM. At any point if information is needed about a previous decision, the SM can call up these notes, and the participants can also call up the related sketches and plans and display them on the screens.

My goal in this description is to give you a clearer picture of what occurs in this type of meeting. I haven’t described in detail the use or operation of the interactive workspace because it should naturally facilitate the types of actions that need to occur in this type of meeting. The value of the interactive workspace can be seen when it is compared to how the process currently works. One main problem with a more traditional version of this meeting is the reliance on paper or whiteboards for sketching. With paper, it is difficult to display information to all the participants in the meeting, and it is also difficult for everyone to collaborate and focus on one sketch or design. With a whiteboard, it is more difficult to store and retrieve information later. This interactive workspace should combine the best features of both of these traditional meeting tools.