Reflection 6 – Spencer Jenkins

The main paper for this session was “Where Do Web Sites Come From? Capturing and Interacting with Design History”, a collaborative work between UC Berkeley and the University of Aarhus from Klemmer et al. In the paper, the authors describe the design and performance of a system titled Designer’s Outpost. The main idea of the system is to assist website designers during the creative process. The system consists of some physical devices, enhanced by software running on top. The main portion of the Designer’s Outpost is a large SMART Board (essentially a software-enabled whiteboard) on which designers can draw and post Post-it notes. There is also a camera facing the board to capture activity. Finally, there is a projector in back of the board that outputs information to be displayed on the board. 

What the projector displays on the SMART board is the main substance of the Designer’s Outpost project. Essentially, Designer’s Outpost offers designers a specialized form of version control. During brainstorming, there are many crucial decision points. These are captured in the timeline presented by Designer’s Outpost. The division points can either be set by the users themselves (essentially acting as bookmarks in the design process) or can be inferred automatically by the program (with divisions consisting of certain time intervals or specific designer effort). Not only does the timeline enable navigation to various points in the project, but it also has a collapsing design. This allows for branches of design not currently in use to remain, without cluttering the overall view of the project. Users can navigate the timeline to revert to previous versions of their designs. Users can also create handouts based on the timeline called synopses. These allow for documentation of important decision points in the design process. 

I found this paper to be very interesting. I work at an agency that does mobile app and web development using in-house developers. Thus, I see design processes unfolding over whiteboards cluttered with Post-it notes daily. Often, I see designers pulling out their phones to photograph crucial points in their process before they deconstruct and branch to other ideas. Firsthand, I have seen how an automated, electronic documentation of this process would be of great help. With this paper approaching 20 years, I’d be interested to see how this idea has developed with advances in technology. Overall, version control for a physical design process like this is a fascinating area, and I think that the authors proposed a captivating solution to this task.