page 1  (1 pages)

CERC Technical Report Series

Research Note



Michael Sobolewski
email: [email protected]

April 1992

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This effort has been sponsored by Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA), under contract No. MDA972-91-J-1022 for DARPA Initiative in Concurrent Engineering(DICE).

Concurrent Engineering Research Center
West Virginia University
Drawer 2000, Morgantown WV 26506


Graphical User Interface for Collaborative Work*

Michael Sobolewski
Concurrent Engineering Research Center
West Virginia University
Drawer 2000, Morgantown WV 26506
email: [email protected]

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.
Gertrude Stein
Sacred Emily
An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose
smells better than a cabbage, concludes that
also makes better soup.
H. L. Mencken


An interactive graphical user interface design for collaborative work (collaborative desktop) is analyzed. A design of the graphical user interface for a structured group work is presented at semantical (conceptual design), syntactical (sequencing), and lexical (hardware bindings) levels. A resulting style of the presented user interface is based on direct manipulation and menu selection styles. First, a direct manipulation design is only presented and then its consistent extension with a menu-selection style. This top-level user interface has been extended consistently by the collaborative-tools user interface presented in (Sobolewski 1992). This document is treated as a basis for developing software specifications for a collaborative user interface.

* Acknowledgements - This work has been sponsored by Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), under contract No. MDA972-91-J-1022 for DARPA Initiative in Concurrent Engineering (DICE) 3

1. Introduction

In the essence of the problem of integrating machines and human experts within new-generation concurrent engineering design and manufacture systems lies the necessity of effective on-line communication among cooperating users with the mediation of machines (Virtual Team concept). The communication should be easy, fast, data-intensive, and error-free. To achieve this it should be natural for users, despite the great diversity of types and needs of users of a system; that is, it should be at the same time conceptually unified and diversified. The communication means that are able to satisfy these seemingly contradictory requirements are natural language and graphics (Kulpa and Sobolewski 1991, 1992, Sobolewski 1990).

The key goals in user-interface design are to increase learning speed, to increse the speed of use, to reduce error rate, to encourage rapid recall of how to use the interface, and to enhance its attractiveness to potential users and buyers. Although there are many styles of user-computer interactions, the most popular include: what you see is what you get (WYSI-WYG), direct manipulation, menu selection, form fill-in, command language, natural-language dialogue, and question answering. The reader can find interesting comparison of these styles in (Foley and others 1990).

A direct-manipulation user interface is one in which the objects, attributes, or relations to be operated on are represented visually; operations are invoked by actions performed on the visual representations, typically using a mouse. That is, commands are not invoked explicitly by such traditional means as menu selection or keyboarding; rather, the command is implicit in the action on the visual representation. Direct manipulation sometimes is presented as being the best userinterface style because it is quite powerful and especially easy to learn. However, this type of user interface can be slow for experienced users, in that they are forced to use direct manipulation when another style generally would be faster. Successful interfaces often meld elements of several styles to meet design objectives not readily met by one style alone.

A design of the graphical user interface for collaborative work presented in this paper is based mainly on direct manipulation and menu selection styles. The extension of the collaborative user interface on the collaborative tools user interface is given in (Sobolewski 1992). That extension additionally exploits fill-in forms and question-answer dialog styles to improve medium speed of use and low extensibility of the direct-manipulation style. We will present first a direct manipulation design of a collaborative user interface and then a consistent extension with menu selection style.


2. Conceptual Design

The conceptual design is the definition of the principal application concepts that must be mastered by the user. It typically defines objects, properties of objects, relationships between objects, and operations on objects. Detailed description of teams and their functionality is given in (Sobolewski and Jagannathan 1992). Here, we only consider objects that are related explicitly to graphical representation at the interactive graphical interface level.

Concurrent engineering environments must offer broad functionality. The more powerful systems become, the more difficult they are to use. Before users will be able to take advantage of the power of high-functionality computer systems, the cognitive costs of mastering them must be reduced. The following problems of high-functionality systems (as identified by Draper 1984, Fisher 1987, 1992, and Lemke 1989) must be overcome:

1. Users do not know about the existence of tools;

2. Users do not know how to access tools;

3. Users do not know when to use tools; and

4. Users can not combine, adapt, and modify tools according to their specific

In view of the above problems, the presented user interface is structured into four vertical levels: organization (company), project, team, and member (private) level. The project and the team levels are structured into horizontal levels. Superprojects and subprojects are considered at the project levels, and subteams and superteams are considered at team levels. Levels of a collaborative desktop are illustrated in Figure 2.1, where thin arrows show ?is element? relation, and bold ones show ?is subset? relation.

When users work with many levels, some of which are not visualized to avoid screen cluttering, at times, they may wonder where they are or how to move to other existing levels. Additionally, selftracing and level-tracing mechanisms are introduced to the level structure to allow the user to navigate between all existing levels, although their focus of attention may only be limited to one of these levels.

Thus, four kinds of workspaces, related to the above mentioned vertical levels, are distinguished: organization, project, team, and member. Horizontal superproject, subproject and superteam, subteam levels are represented within multiple project and team workspace windows, respectively. Navigation between horizontal levels at the project or team level is menu-driven. The team workspace has the same structure as the project workspace, only different semantics are applied, i.e., team objects at the project level are replaced by member objects at the team level. Each workspace is represented as a window on a user display. Generally speaking, a workspace may


contain organizational objects (organization, superprojects, projects, subprojects, superteams, teams, subteams, members of teams), tool, document, and folder objects .