Supporting Effective Interaction with Tabletop Groupware

Meredith Ringel Morris

PhD Thesis: Stanford University |

We encounter tables in a variety of situations in our everyday lives – at work, at school, at home, and in restaurants, libraries, and other public venues. The ubiquity of this furniture results from the utility of its affordances: tables’ horizontal surfaces afford the placement of objects, and their large surface area affords the spreading, piling, and organization of these items; chairs afford sitting and relaxing, making work around tables leisurely and comfortable; and, perhaps most importantly, tables afford face-to-face collaboration amongst a small group of co-located individuals.

Enhancing traditional tables by adding computational functionality combines the collaborative and organizational benefits of horizontal surfaces, as well as their ability to hold tangible interaction objects, with the power and adaptability of digital technology, including the ability to archive, search, and share digital documents and the ability to quickly access related information. Combining the productivity benefits of computing with the social benefits of around-the-table interaction has value for many commonplace activities, such as business, education, and entertainment. The recent introduction of hardware that detects touch input from multiple, simultaneous users has made computationally-augmented tables, or “interactive tables,” practical.

This dissertation contributes a sequence of novel prototypes that explore the properties of group interaction with interactive tables. It presents the results of user experiments on the ways people share information and control in the unique setting of interactive face-to-face shared computer use. On the basis of these it proposes design principles that will produce tabletop groupware that better facilitates human-computer interaction and cooperative processes. These principles relate to appropriate uses for different regions of the table’s surface, techniques for reducing visual clutter, the utility and visibility of access permissions for virtual objects, methods for influencing users’ social interactions via tabletop interface design, consideration of how tabletop interface design influences and facilitates different work styles, and appropriate
usability metrics for evaluating this class of software.

Considering tabletop design holistically, including both the human-computer and human-human interactions that take place during tabletop activities, can lead to the development of more usable and useful tabletop groupware.

Supporting Effective Interaction with Tabletop Groupware

Current computing systems are primarily designed for a single person working alone at a PC, with support for enabling remote collaboration over a network. However, traditional work practices involve not only individual work and communication with remote colleagues, but also face-to-face group meetings and activities. This latter class of interactions remains largely unsupported by computing technology. In this talk, I will focus on one particular means of computer support for face-to-face group work: interactive tables. Interactive tables are computer-augmented tables that support simultaneous inputs from a group of co-located users. This emerging class of devices presents interesting challenges for user interface design. In this talk, I will discuss several challenges in designing applications for interactive tables, covering issues such as the orientation of information, widget layouts, appropriate input mechanisms, integrating personal content, multi-user coordination, and the impact of tabletop UIs on group dynamics. I will present implementations and evaluations of prototype tabletop systems that address these challenges.