Monday, October 27, 2008

A Taxonomy of Ambient Information Systems: Four Patterns of Design

This paper presents the current state of the art in ambient or peripheral information displays. The authors propose four dimensions on which the currently available ambient systems can be measured: information capacity, notification level, representation fidelity, and aesthetic emphasis. Information capacity measures the number of information sources a device can display. Notification level indicates the degree to which the system will interrupt the user, or demand their attention. Representation fidelity measures the level of abstraction in the data representation. Finally, aesthetic emphasis measures how important aesthetics are to the device's designers. Based on these four dimensions, the authors propose four patterns of design in this domain: Symbolic Sculptural Displays, Multiple Information Consolidators, Information Monitor Displays, and High Throughput Textual Displays.

The authors do a very nice job of describing the current areas of research and development in ambient and peripheral displays. The exercise of classifying current projects on their four selected dimensions is quite insightful, and serves greatly to provide organization and structure to the field.

This paper is lacking in a tangible contribution to knowledge, however. In the paper's introduction, it mentions at least one other existing method of categorizing ambient and peripheral displays. I can see no measure that indicates that the new classification system which is proposed here has any advantage over existing methods. Also, these patterns of design have been used to classify existing projects, but how could they be used to facilitate the creation of new products, in much the same way that OOP design patters are used? Finally, it could be suggested that the four patterns proposed are insufficient to categorize all possible ambient displays, since it is incapable of being applicable to all devices in the sample used in the paper. Perhaps there are more than four patterns that can be extracted from the four dimensions of classification proposed by the authors, and perhaps there are even anti-patterns to be found within these four dimensions, that would result in poor ambient displays.

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