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M. Fjeld, K. Lauche, M. Bichsel, F. Voorhorst, H. Krueger & M. Rauterberg (2002): Physical and Virtual Tools: Activity Theory Applied to the Design of Groupware. In B. A. Nardi & D. F. Redmiles (eds.) A Special Issue of Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Activity Theory and the Practice of Design, Volume 11 (1-2), pp. 153-180.

../pub/cscw.pdf (2.74MB) 2.74MB

Key words
Design, activity theory, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, graspable, groupware, objectification, physical tools, virtual tools, co-located interaction, cooperation, planning, configuration, social, computer.

Activity theory is based on the concept of tools mediating between subjects and objects. In this theory, an individualís creative interaction with his or her surroundings can result in the production of tools. When an individualís mental processes are exteriorized in the form of tools - termed objectification - they become more accessible to other people and are therefore useful for social interaction. This paper shows how our understanding of activity theory has shaped our design philosophy for groupware and how we have applied it. Our design philosophy and practice is exemplified by a description of the BUILD-IT system. This is an Augmented Reality system we developed to enhance group work; it is a kind of graspable groupware which supports cooperative planning. The system allows a group of people, co-located around a table, to interact, by means of physical bricks, with models in a virtual three-dimensional (3D) setting. Guided by task analysis, a set of specific tools for different 3D planning and configuration tasks was implemented as part of this system. We investigate both physical and virtual tools. These tools allow users to adjust model height, viewpoint, and scale of the virtual setting. Finally, our design practice is summarized in a set of design guidelines. Based on these guidelines, we reflect on our own design practice and the usefulness of activity theory for design.

M. Fjeld, M. Morf & H. Krueger (2004): Activity theory and the practice of design: evaluation of a collaborative tangible user interface. In (L. Uden and Y. Engeström, eds.) A Special issue of International Journal of Human Resources Development And Management (IJHRDM) on Activity Theory for Organizational Development and Management (invited), Volume 4, No. 1, pp. 94-116. .

../pub/ijhrdm.pdf (2.74MB) 1.01MB

Key words
Tangible User Interface; human–computer interaction; augmented reality; collaboration; planning; layout; usability; evaluation; activity theory; Activity Checklist..

BUILD-IT is a Tangible User Interface (TUI) developed to facilitate collaboration between a group of designers or planners seated around a table. We briefly describe a task analysis conducted to determine what the target users of the system do in the course of their work. The responses provided by 16 potential users are summarised as design insights. The system designed to facilitate dealing with these tasks, described in more detail by Rauterberg et al. [1] and Fjeld et al. [2], is then outlined. The remaining sections of the paper present an informal evaluation of BUILD-IT consisting of the first author’s responses to questions selected from the Activity Checklist devised by Kaptelinin et al. [3]. The relationship between BUILD-IT and activity theory is a theme throughout the paper since tangible bricks – physical objects which users manipulate – bring behavioural (‘objective’) elements of activity particularly close to the decision-making, cognitive (‘subjective’) elements of activity involved in planning and design.

[1] Rauterberg, M., Fjeld, M., Krueger, H., Bichsel, M., Leonhardt, U. and Meier, M. (1997) ‘BUILD-IT: a computer vision-based interaction technique for a planning tool’, in Thimbleby, H., O’Conaill, B. and Thomas, P. (Eds.): People and Computers XII: Proceedings of HCI’97, Springer, London, pp.303–314.
[2] Fjeld, M., Lauche, K., Bichsel, M., Voorhorst, F., Krueger, H. and Rauterberg, M. (2002) ‘Physical and virtual tools: activity theory applied to the design of groupware’, in Nardi, B., Redmiles, D.F. (Eds): Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), Vol. 11, Nos. 1–2,
[3] Kaptelinin, V., Nardi, B.A. and Macaulay, C. (1999) ‘The activity checklist: a tool for representing the ‘space’ of context’, Interactions, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp.27–39.