As a designer who has tried to build a Gantt chart before, it can be a painful process; I was curious if other people had a similar experience. In Stan Ruecker’s workshop, our team was charged with exploring project management in the design process.
For our research, we interviewed a variety of project managers and designers in order to document their duties, roles and pain points in the process. From our learnings, we developed a full-featured Wizard of Oz prototype and an working experimental multi-touch software prototype, Node.
Our experimental prototype was used by graduate design students in order to understand the role of technology in mediating a design clustering activity and group dynamics. The culmination of the work was an extensive academic paper documenting our entire process and learnings. The paper was presented at the 2014 International Conference on Design & Emotion in Columbia in October 2014.
As researchers, we expected to discover a fundamental mismatch between the time- and task-focused management process commonly organized in tools like the Gantt chart and the iterative, imprecise path of the design process.
We were surprised to find instead that organizations didn’t struggle with project management. Instead, teams struggled to report project value within their own teams and to key stakeholders. Designers negotiate between the physical and digital worlds, utilize space as a tool for managing knowledge and have their worked paused by presentations.
Concept Test Prototype
In response to our interviewees, we designed a tool that aimed to manage this information digitally through an unique use of environment, space and collaboration. We spent time role-playing with a paper prototype developing various methods of organizing, tagging and highlighting information.
We developed our concept in Apple Keynote for the multi-touch Multitaction table to help design managers organize and share their data. Similar to their current vertical space environment, the tool is designed so that most functions can executed by any team member at any table edge through a main menu. Data (images, text, video and other digital assets) can be clustered into groups, insights can be appended to the data, and visualization modes create multiple views that do not require resorting the data.
We investigated three key areas with our prototype: how users learn new gestures that are beyond current digital norms, how a multitouch surface might facilitate or hinder team dynamics, and the acceptance and desirability of such a tool for the design industry. The “Wizard of Oz” prototype developed in Keynote was meant to test how our concept might apply. The second test, a usability test of our Adobe Flash functioning prototype for the multi-touch table, was used to understand group behaviors and teams.
The team asked four designers to review the Apple Keynote “Wizard of Oz” prototype, two of which we interviewed during the initial research phase. In general, the testers responded positively to the concept. They thought the prototype would be best for small design teams in large corporate environments or as a “good project journal.”
What our testers didn’t like were the stage transitions which were “jarring” and “anxiety-inducing” — several concept testers gasped, saying the information had “disappeared”. They wished they could print copies of the digital screens; they wanted to print out what was happening on the table onto paper that they could surround themselves with in a physical space.
To understand how multi-touch, collaborative technology could impact group dynamics and hierarchy, we developed Node, a collaborative clustering Adobe Flash prototype for the multi-touch Multitaction table. Our clustering program make it possible to drag, scale, and cluster pictures. We recruited 12 grad students for two sorting exercises: paper clustering (the study’s control) and digital clustering with our Node prototype.
Participants organized images of sport or kitchen products into clusters as a group. We documented the whole process with an aerial video camera and secondary camera, and conducted individual interviews after the exercises.
Regardless of the activities’ medium, we observed two leadership styles. The first style of leadership observed could be characterized as “command and control,” where the senior member would judge, strike down ideas and choose other strategies on the cluster categories. The second type of leader exhibited facilitation and iteration behaviors.
Paper Cluster Exercise
In the paper clustering exercise, we saw distinct body language, leadership and team flow. In the paper clustering exercises, participants controlled the conversation through physical gestures and seemed to more easily build group identity.
We also saw a team clear the table to create “thinking space” and divide personal and group data. Group members communicated in subtle non-verbal ways through body language to instigate conversations and built consensus.
Digital Clustering Exercise
In the digital clustering exercise, we saw some interesting contrasts between leadership styles and team flow compared to the paper exercise. Users employed deliberate actions and asserted conversational dominance through command of screen real estate and limiting a team member’s physical access to data allowed leaders to assert control.
Overall, we saw that users were challenged to form consensus in the digital experience as easily as in the physical exercise. We observed them talking less about the data and participants described the digital experience as “so engrossing and entertaining” that it was hard to focus on what other group members were doing.
As our final deliverable, we wrote an academic paper paper that presented the findings of our research, interviews, concept test interviews and usability tests. Additionally, we presented a dynamic 20-minute presentation summarizing all of our work, which included a skit of the user behaviors that we saw and the subsequent findings.