Calm Curation

Reflection of Klemmer, S. R., Thomsen, M., Phelps-Goodman, E., Lee, R., & Landay, J. A. (2002, April). Where do web sites come from?: capturing and interacting with design history. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 1-8). ACM.


The goal of the research is to support web designers to express intermediate representations of a website that usually gets lost during the design process and to provide a unified way to manage different variations. To that end, the paper presents a system which is a “wall-scale” (large scale) board where there are two cameras to track the physical objects attached to the board. This means that any paper in the physical world could become an input in the digital word. The system supports three different interaction affordances including project timeline visualization (called “main timeline”), individual object’s timeline (“local timeline”) and milestone tracking (called “synopsis view”). They conducted a small-scale user study where the users found most of the features useful but wanted calmer interaction as some of the features were distracting.

My Reflection:

It was a shorter paper and felt a lot of things were rushed. Some of the authors had previously published findings from a field study and this paper builds upon that. It could be the reason why I felt that it was a little short. However, I feel there are several things that are worth discussing.

Web curation is an interesting field. The paper is right on target when it claims that designers want all their intermediate steps so that they can reflect upon their design rations. Curation allows that reflective process. There has been work since then looking at curation as a way to support reflection, live collaboration, online learning (e.g. Andruid Kerne’s lab’s work). All of these rely on being able to extract meaningful information from the artifacts. For example, building on this paper, annotating notes at different levels (post-it objects, sessions, multiple-sessions, entire timeline) may help but that requires another level of reflection which may not always be practical. It especially becomes critical in larger collaborative projects when there are a lot of artifacts that have accumulate over a long period of time.

Then there is a further need to balance the overwhelming information with, what the authors of this paper call, “calm interaction”. Given that design is an inherently subjective practice, a system cannot impose meaning upon the artifacts without being in the way. In this paper’s case, the hindrance was due to things like constantly updating thumbnails. There has to be a balance between the system scaffolding curation and imposing unnecessary burden. This may differ between individuals and groups and so it may have to be adaptive to it.

To end this note, I would like to just express my amazement at seeing how ideas come around in circles. In 2002, Klemmer et al. proposed web curation through whiteboards using two cameras. In 2019, while technology has changed drastically and the scales may have changed, the problems remain similar (as we see with Kerne’s work). Collaboration, was, is, and dare I say, will always be, a challenging problem.