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Weakly Augmented Reality: observing and designing the

work-place of creative designers

Giorgio De Michelis*^, Flavio De Paoli*, Costanza Pluchinotta^, Marco Susani 1
The growing presence of Information and
Communication Technology (ICT) in any type of place
has changed the way people understand and operate
within them [7] and therefore the way people live and
experience the spatial metaphor. Adopting Harrison and
Dourish conceptual framework, we can say that
information and communication technology transforms
the places where we spend our lives, extending them
beyond the limits of the portions of physical space,
which host them. Let us recall some examples that offer
hints of the directions that this concept may follow.


In this paper we distinguish between two spatially

oriented system design paradigms: weak and strong
augmented reality. The weak augmented reality
paradigm is then applied in the design of a system
supporting co-operation and knowledge creation within
a design centre. The system has been designed on the
hints we got from two subsequent ethnographies of the
work practice of creative designers. Since the design
centre moved to a new location between our two sets of
observations, we clearly focused our attention on the
impact that space arrangements had on the practice of
its members. The comparison between the two settings
in terms of layout, ICT equipment, changes occurred in
the practices and attitudes of the designers throughout
these years, lead us to design a collaborative
environment weakly augmenting the place where
designers are working.

When people initiate an email message writing Hi ,

instead of Dear, they say, within an asynchronous
communication medium, what they would say when
meeting face to face, as if the velocity of email could
create a virtual common space where the sender is
right there with the recipient while communicating.
Dourish et al. [8], reporting on experiments carried on
at Xerox Research Labs., observe that if the physical
space is reconfigured taking into account the presence
of an audio and video channel, then it happens that
people change their behaviour taking into account the
transformation of the place. First of all, visitors entering
an office begin their interaction greeting not only its
inhabitant but also her remote partner, who is present
through the audio and video link. Moreover, since the
office has been rearranged in such a way that the remote
partner could see its screen, she too is behaving as if
she and the office inhabitant lived in the same place.


Augmented reality, knowledge management systems,

creative design, spatial arrangements.

The space metaphor not only provides a means for

analysing and designing the practices of human beings
but also creates the language through which they speak
about their lives. Proximity and distance, being or not
being there, drawing near and moving away are factors
which allow us to characterise the relations binding
different people while they are involved in a common
practice, for they are used by those people while
operating together. In human life a space is invested
with understandings of behavioural appropriateness,
cultural expectations, and so forth [10], characterising
the practice of the people living in it, transforming itself
into a place. In short, the space metaphor originates
from the basic fact that we live in a space; but it is kept
alive by our capability to use it as the framework for
giving sense to that space on the basis of our practice.

The Olivetti Research Laboratory at Cambridge

University in UK (currently continuing its activity as
ATT Research Laboratory) has created a good example
of an environment that is enriched by ICT in the
Computing Department of the same University [2 1].
Both members and visitors are equipped with active
badges that send signals to sensors distributed in
offices, meeting rooms and corridors activating a large
variety of services for its users. Some examples should
be sufficient: doors open in front of an authorised
incoming person; the computer screen is obscured when
its owner is out of her room; lights are automatically
switched off when the room is empty; personal phone
numbers make the nearest telephone ringing when the
person is called; a list containing the places where

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DARE 2000 April, 2000 Elsinore, Denmark
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*DISCO, University of Milano Bicocca, Via Bicocca degli Arcimboldi 8, 20126 Milano, Italy []

^IRSO, Piazza Giovine Italia 3, 20123 Milano, Italy [demichelis,]

DARC, Domus Academy, Via Savona 97, 20144 Milano, Italy []


contrary, create more realistic representations of the

augmented place.

people are located is updated continuously, saying e.g.

registering that the person who left the Lab were last
seen in front of the elevator.

Weak augmented reality paradigm is important in that it

offers a perspective for evaluating and designing ICT
applications from the spatial metaphor viewpoint
whether they are aiming to change the space perception
of their users or not. While weakly augmented reality
can create new places, even without inventing new
devices or changing existing objects, it offers a
viewpoint for evaluating strong augmented reality
systems , allowing to understand their usability and their
effectiveness above and beyond technical feasibility.

These can be considered as examples of different ways

of how ICT changes the space perception and
understanding of human beings. While the email
example shows how a communication medium induces
the users to behave (to speak) as if they were in a
common virtual place, thus enriching the physical
locations where they are situated, the second one shows
how video and audio links can draw two different
physical locations so close to each other, that they
appear as (parts of) a unique place. The lastly third
example shows how enriching a physical location with
ICT can transform it into a place whose features change
in order to react to the behaviour of the human beings
operating in it.

In this paper we present an application of the weak

augmented reality paradigm. We were lucky enough to
have had the possibility of observing a design centre
twice (in 1996 and 1999), before and after it underwent
its major changes: a new location, an increase in the
number of the employed designers and of the ongoing
projects, an improvement of the technology in use.

All these examples can be considered as examples of

augmented reality [15, 22, 23], since they are not
aiming to create a virtual counterpart of the physical
space [2, 17] where people act and interact, but enrich
the physical locations where they live so that their place
goes far beyond the limits of the physical reality [16].
While Wendy Mackay describes three strategies for
augmenting reality focusing, respectively, on users,
physical objects and the environment surrounding both
users and objects [15], we adopt an orthogonal
viewpoint, characteris ing within it two paradigms: let
us call them strong and weak augmented reality.

Giorgio De Michelis carried on the first observation

together with Edmundo Leiva Lobos and Eliana
Covarrubias [5, 14] within the Desarte project [20],
while the second he carried on together with Costanza
Pluchinotta as part of the Klee&Co Project [6]. Marco
Susani, director of the design centre under observation,
participated in both the observations as an active user.
Flavio De Paoli is responsible for the system to be
designed and developed for the design centre within the
Klee&Co project.

The strong augmented reality paradigm aims to change

the space perception of its inhabitants so that they
cannot distinguish the physical base of their place from
its virtual extension. When a person working with a
dangerous material is allowed to handle it without
directly touching it, the quality of the system depends
on its capability to allow the user to perceive the remote
dangerous material as if it were directly in her hands.

Evaluation of the two work settings allows us to design

the system we are developing as a means of augmenting
the design centre workplace so that it combines the
good points of both previous and more recent work
settings, while avoiding the weaknesses of each. In
analysing and designing the system, therefore, the space
dimension plays a major role, even if we are neither
creating new devices nor deeply transforming existing
objects. This will become clear in the following
sections of our paper.

The weak augmented reality paradigm aims to induce

people to behave as if their place were transformed
even if the physical space where they are located does
not seem changed. The email system does not change
the physical space in any sense; audio and video links
that you can hear and see through a window on a
workstation do not significantly change the space where
the workstation is situated; even the ubiquitous
computing extensions of the Olivetti Research
Laboratory at Cambridge University do not change the
space where they are located, they only enrich their
behavioural properties.

The next section reports on the findings of the

observations of the two workplaces. Later, we describe
how the current work-space of the observed design
centre can be augmented without making use of
sophisticated technologies, but by trying to deeply
modify the behaviour of its inhabitants and visitors.
Then, the reader will find a section outlining the system
we are designing and developing to fulfil the
requirements established in the previous section. The
conclusion comes back to the augmented reality
paradigms to indicate some future directions for our

We must underline at this point that there is no clear-cut

distinction between weak and strong augmented reality:
strong augmented reality applications frequently
enhance their users feeling of being in a different place.
As a matter of fact, the three examples we have grouped
within the weak paradigm can be distinguished from the
strong paradigm viewpoint: from email that does not in
any way affect user perception, to the audio and video
links and active badges and sensors which, on the


Domus Academy (DA) was established in 1983 as a

private Italian Education Institution dealing with
innovation in Industrial Design. Some years later a
Research Center (DARC) was created in order to
support educational activities and to explore the most

during design and/or research projects on the DARC


innovative design themes from a practical viewpoint.

Currently DARC is involved in both consultancy
projects and research projects. We had the occasion to
make ethnographic observations of DARC work
practice twice in the last four years, once in 1996,
within the EC funded Desarte Project, and later in 1999
within the EC funded Klee&Co Project. Within
Desarte, one of the authors conducted a feasibility study
together with Edmundo Leiva Lobos and Eliana
Covarrubias Gatica [14] . The aim was to analyse the
need for a co-operation support system on the part of
creative people (within the same project other groups
made similar observations on architects, landscape
architects and software designers [20]). As a follow up
to Desarte, a new project named Klee&Co was set up
and funded by the EC with the aim of designing and
developing the co-operation support system for
industrial designers outlined in Desarte. There are two
user organisations in Klee&Co: Domus Academy and
Philips Design. In order to update the knowledge on the
work practice at DARC and to better define the
requirements for the system to be designed, it was
necessary to repeat the ethnographic observation at
DARC. The intention was to focus the system on
supporting its informal learning process mediated by
"knowledge of experience".

The contiguity of the two spaces enhanced

communication among students and researchers about
what was going on in both environments. As a matter of
fact, there was a close exchange between the two parts:
students felt free to visit the DARC, asking about the
pictures and sketches hanging up all around and about
the projects they were related to, similarly, researchers
passing through the educational space to reach their
workplace were used to poking their nose into the
artefacts produced by the students, offering suggestions
and asking for more information.
The DARC open space was divided into sub-areas for
each ongoing project (see figure 1) so that all the
designers co-operating on a project had a common work
place. This space organisation had two main features.

Our ethnographic observation was part of a design

process [11, 18]. It focused on the spatial dimension of
the work setting and on its influence on the practice of
the designers community [3, 13, 24] as well as on the
way people interact within and across project teams and
with external visitors and customers [5, 14].
The fact that between 1996 and 1999 the situation at
DARC experienced major changes (Domus Academy
moved to a new larger location; DARC had a
extraordinary growth becoming deeply involved in
interaction design projects; ICT became widely diffused
within DARC so that each designer had a networked
workstation) gave us the opportunity of using the
knowledge about the transformation of the workspace
in analysing and evaluating its current performances.
Let us outline our findings.

Figure 1 - The DA Research Centre in 1996: a per

project organisation of space.
First, its walls (and cabinet doors) were fully decorated
with photographs and drawings contributing to inspire
the creative design process of the project (see figure 2).
These highly evocative pictures captured the attention
of both occasional visitors designers, students, etc.
and the DARC designers involved in other projects,
thus provoking conversations with members of the
design teams about what they were doing.

DAs organisation of space in 1996

In 1996 DA operated on the top floor of a building

outside Milan. The space where all educational
activities were performed was physically adjacent to the
DARC open space. The two places were decorated with
pictures, sketches and artefacts produced and chosen,
respectively, during education working sessions and
student thesis work on the education space side and

Conversing about the work they were engaged in, they

both improved their ability to describe and explain their
work and had the occasion to get new ideas and hear
outside opinions. Conversations triggered, moreover,
cross-fertilisation, exchange of viewpoints, and
enhanced awareness about what was going on in the
Research Centre.

We put the word between single quotation marks,

since we do not use a standard ethnographic
observation style, since on the one hand our
observation sought to contribute to the process of
designing a cooperation support system for the
observed organization respecting its strict timing and
on the other we involved the observed community of
practice in an action learning process so that the latter
could fully participate in the design process

Secondly, graphic workstations, scanners, office tools,

etc. were placed on the hot desk of each project (so
called because thats where the work is really going on)
and in the graphic design section of the DARC, since all
project teams shared the technological support systems
and no designer had a personal workstation. Computers
did not play the major role in the creative process;
rather they were used mostly for creating the project

milestones. A temporary space was set up for these

meetings, but the communication between a project
team and clients was episodical and badly supported.
This led, sometimes, to reciprocal misunderstandings.

presentations, writing documents of any type, searching

in the web, interacting via e-mail. For the rest,
designers were used to draw on paper and to build
physical mock-ups and models of the artefacts they
were designing.

The space organisation at DA in 1999

In 1998 DA moved to the second floor of an old

industrial building, always in Milan. The new layout is
divided in three main parts: the educational space, the
research centre and, in between, a management and
internal services third area where business, corporate
communication, and administrative activities are
located (see figure 3).
When you enter Domus Academy there are a smoking
area and a wide hall where you can find all kinds of
people students , designers and visitors.
From this hall you can access both the educational
space (turning right) and the staff offices and the
Research Centre workplace (turning left).
In the educational space there are various classrooms
and a computer room, a library plus an open space
where students work (alone or in small groups), discuss
and brainstorm during project sessions.
To the left of the entrance hall there is a long corridor
where all the internal staff offices and a meeting room
are located.
At the end of the corridor there is the DARC workplace,
consisting of an open space (the laboratory) where
designers work side by side and concurrently on
different projects as well as the offices of the DARC
Manager and of the supervisors of the different research
and design areas (namely: Interaction, Communication
and Material Design).

Figure 2 - The DARC space was fully decorated.

As mentioned above, the project workplace was full of
imagery and knowledge supporting co-operation among
team members. So even those who were away from the
DARC for some days could, upon returning, be updated
of what happened during their absence by simply taking
a look at the new images and objects in the project

The new Domus Academy layout has significantly

changed the way designers and students communicate
and interact. In fact, on the one hand, designers do not
pass through the education area in order to reach their
workspace and, on the other, students do not go to the
DARC very often since they would have to pass
through the business administration area. Moreover, as
we will see later, the DARC workspace has lost its
character as a place of conversation and exchange of

This work setting presented some weaknesses too.

Technological equipment was insufficient. This could
lead to a bottleneck when various project teams needed,
for example, to prepare a presentation for their
customers. Thus conflicts over the use of computing
resources were frequent. Using workstations as
communication media and/or as a means of creating a
common knowledge space within a project was also
quite difficult due to the fact that they were not on the
desk of the designers.

From 1996 to 1999 DARC has greatly increased its

size: the number of projects has more than doubled and,
consequently, so has the number of designers. As the
growth is mainly due to the Interaction Design area,
DARCs technological equipment has expanded too.
The DARC today has a per person organisation of the
space. The laboratory is divided in two parts by a set of
shelving. The first hosts the Communication and
Interaction Design working areas, while the other has
no specific destination.
Some Interaction Design senior designers sit there when
co-ordinating activities within the projects while the
Material Design staff use the other two desk areas.
From an ICT equipment viewpoint, each designer has
her own workstation with a suite of productivity and
design tools.

Since project leaders and senior designers were

frequently away for business and research purposes,
their absence provoked breakdowns in the projects
when their contribution was needed. In fact, they both
represented the communication bridge between the
project team and the client(s) and had the final word in
any decision concerning the project. In each case, in
order to solve or avoid the breakdowns, an effective and
broad communication network connecting all DARC
members, at the workplace or not, should have been
Finally, with regards to communication between
client(s) and project team, there was another issue to be
taken into account. Client-performer interactions were
limited to the periodical review meetings and

learned to use the email to overcome these limits,

frequently exchanging messages even with colleagues
who are also in the laboratory. However, the
effectiveness of their communication is not the same as
before. Moreover, the individualised space organisation
and the absence of decoration characterising a project
neither facilitate the exchange of viewpoints and
experiences both among designers and with visitors nor
support their mutual awareness [1]. The DARC
manager tries to overcome this problem by inviting to
any projects brainstorming and survey meetings also
some senior designers who are not directly involved in
it. Meetings in the entrance hall for a coffee are always
a good occasion for increasing awareness of what is
going on at Domus Academy. Nevertheless, the
peripheral participation of all DARC designers and
even occasional visitors in all DARCs activities is no
more possible.

Figure 3 - DAs layout in 1999.

Today computers represent the main working tool for
designers: people use computers to create artefacts
(with the support of graphical applications), to write
papers, to navigate the Web looking for all kinds of
interesting news and to communicate via email.
A key point: email is used for communicating both with
distant people and with other DARC designers, even
when they are in the laboratory.

Another consequence of the current space organisation

is a neat separation between individual and team work
activities. In the laboratory designers perform
individual activities or conduct only brief exchanges of
views. Meanwhile group activities are generally
performed in the meeting room, where no trace of their
work is visible except for the documents and drawings
they bring there when a meeting is arranged. As our
observation at Philips Design has also shown [6],
communication is more effective when it occurs in a
space whose decoration brings forth the context of the
activity to which it makes reference.

Figure 4 - The DA Research Centre today: a per

person organisation of space.
As a matter of fact, the workspace is organised no
longer by projects but according to roles designer,
senior designer, supervisor and to design areas (see
figure 4). This space organisation is more likely to
induce individual rather than team activities, even if the
DARC workspace is now often crowded and noisy
because of the increase, over recent years, in the
number of people working there.

As far as interaction with customers is concerned, today

communication is still episodic and sometimes
ineffective. The project leader remains the
communication bridge between the project team and
the client(s) (with all potential breakdowns and
bottlenecks that this solution can generate) letting
designers develop the creative phase without any direct
interference by the client(s) so that their imagination
can run free. However, the DARC ICT infrastructure
could support the creation of a virtual space where
communication and interaction between the project
team and the client(s) could take place without
interruptions, preventing breakdowns and bottlenecks.
Remote participation in project activities on the part of

In sum, on the one hand there is a sort of loss of sight

of project boundaries and on the other it is difficult to
grasp all the benefits related to a per-personorganisation of space.
Due to the lack of a shared project context,
communication among team members is sometimes
difficult and knowledge sharing is no longer a natural
fallout of their social behaviour. DARC designers have


senior designers and project leaders often away on

business has been also improved and can be further
improved by the ICT infrastructure.

The new system should make the physical space plastic,

so that it can be tailored to meet different needs in any
situation. This new augmented space should involve not
only the DARC open space and its offices, but also any
other used location, like meeting rooms , remote
locations hosting designers when travelling, offices of
clients when communicating with designers. The design
of the new system is centred on the projects carried on
at Domus Academy, since the internal organisation is
based on projects. The same situation has been detected
at Philips Design and other design centres, so that it can
be considered general enough to design the whole
system around projects.

In conclusion, in its new location Domus Academy has

moved to a more powerful technological support system
allowing its designers to enrich their communication
and design equipment, but its space organisation (and in
the DARC particularly) does not lead to a natural
support to communication, co-operation and knowledge
creation and sharing. The latter are very important in
creative organisations since they represent not only the
way through which a design studio improves its skills
and refines its style, but also main components of the
design outcome itself. The ICT infrastructure of Domus
Academy and the way it is already widely used by its
members for both designing and communicating
suggests that through it the DARC workplace can be
augmented so that co-operation and knowledge sharing
within and across project teams are enhanced.

The system will be based on a knowledge management

system that collects and organises every information
about projects. This includes formal and informal
documents, participant profiles, conversations and
discussions, comments and sketches , and everything
else is useful to build up a comprehensive description of
the projects' development from its definition to its
completion. The knowledge will be made available to
users in different ways according to their profile and
their current situation. The quality of the presentation is
fundamental to achieve the satisfaction of the users, and
consequently to make the system successful. A shared,
comprehensive view of a project will be made available
to members of the project team to provide them with a
backup repository of the project knowledge. Moreover,
partial and tailored views of it will be used to address
different types of activities: individual work, face-toface meetings, project meetings, distant co-operation,
etc.. A partial view of the project will be created in a
virtual space where the customers can interact with the
designers reaching an adequate awareness of project


The comparison of the 1996 and 1999 observations at

Domus Academy allows us to characterise our analysis
in terms of gains and losses in the passage between the
two settings. Moreover it allows us to underline how
the practice of the DARC members immediately tried to
overcome the problems that could arise from the new
workplace organisation, how they are learning to live
and work as effectively as possible in it. Diachronic
analysis seems quite useful in orienting design choices
since it characterises the observed situation in
dynamical terms. Thus, the designed solutions are
evaluated with respect to their impact on the changing
practice of the DARC designers and on their learning.
The story we recalled in the previous section shows that
space arrangements play a very important role in the
practice of human beings. The place we live in shapes
our behaviour as well as the language we use to speak
about it. Whenever we move to a new place, we need
time to feel at home in it, to connect with it. We
therefore took a straightforward approach in
considering even the ICT infrastructure we had to
design a means of transforming the DARC workplace
by augmenting it.

Meeting rooms will be equipped with wall projectors or

large screens to decorate it with inspirational images
and drawings to let participants feel as if they were in
the project workplace. The same vein social spaces, like
the entrance hall, will be equipped with wall projectors
to show a selection of evocative images presenting the
ongoing projects and soliciting the curiosity of who is
there to trigger conversations about the project
themselves. Any social space should have windows on
what is going at Domus Academy , in order to increase
mutual awareness.

Our analysis shows that the new DARC workplace

introduces new limits with respect to the previous
location of Domus Academy . The physical layout (the
separation between educational space and the DARC),
the enrichment of the technological infrastructure (a
workstation and a desk for each designer), and the
increased size of Domus Academy and in particular of
DARC, prevent the workplace to support per se the
awareness of its inhabitants [1]. Moreover, it shares
other limits with the previous location: the absence of a
place devoted to the interaction with clients and the use
of the open space for both individual and team work
activity impact on performance.
Therefore augmenting the DARC workplace means
designing its technological infrastructure so that it can
serve the different needs of the users in different

These are typical examples of the weak augmented

reality perspective. Without changing the physical
layout of the Domus Academy location, without
creating new devices nor transforming existing objects,
only using typical interfaces like PCs and large
screens, the space becomes flexible and plastic.
The entrance hall becomes the place in which people
are updated on activities carried on in Domus
Academy ; the meeting room becomes part of a project
workplace during members' meetings; the DARC
workspace is at once an open space where designers
perform their individual activities and the home of the

wherever it is needed and presenting it in any situation

in a suitable way.

different workplaces of the ongoing projects; a new

virtual place plays the role of a permanent dedicated
space for interacting with the customers.
The place of the DARC will be changed in a way that is
not possible in the physical space by the new ICT
infrastructure and services, since they create new
interaction possibilities. Weakly augmented reality is
not looking for virtual extensions of the space that are
invisible to human eyes; rather, it aims to create places
where people can live and practice in ways extending
and modifying their previous habits.
A goal of the system we are developing is to minimise
the human effort needed for using and maintaining it.
Otherwise, it would increase the articulation of work
[19], distracting users from their focus on design. The
information and the knowledge are captured from the
every-day activities of designers, and stored in the
knowledge bases associated with projects. The project
knowledge bases are, in fact, the source for any of the
described views, like populating the (virtual) place for
the interaction with the customers or decorating the
walls of the entrance hall.
The presentation of the knowledge must be specifically
designed to be effective in specific situations. The
system must be able to provide a tailored view of a
project when the designer is working at her desk, when
she discusses a detail with a colleague, or when she is
presenting intermediate results during a meeting.
Moreover, the team members should access a view of
the project knowledge according to the role they play
and the situation they are in : for example, the project
leader, when working alone, can access management
information on the project that should not be displayed
to designers. The system is requested to automatically
detect the current situation and behave accordingly.

Figure 5 - A "visionary" interface.


As discussed in the previous sections, our aim is to

augment the place of DARC, in such a way that
designers can practice without the constraints created
by the physical arrangements of their location. The
main problem is therefore to offer them the access to
the knowledge, supporting their awareness. Since
documents are a relevant part of the explicit knowledge
created within design, the system we aim to develop has
to provide multi-view access to project documentation.
The goal is to give the user comprehensive information
about technical contents and related documents from
both Domus Academy repositories and external sources
such as the Web. Moreover, non-technical issues like
the process that delivered the current version of a
document or the debate that underwent the decisions
have to be properly addressed. This information forms
the context of a document, to give to the user
knowledge about documents throughout their entire life.

The system we are designing requires the devise of a

new kind of interface that can host several, related
information. The basic idea is to make the focus of each
view the centre of the presentation surrounded by its
context, i.e. by the collection of knowledge items ,
information, and data related to it. For example, the
context of a document includes related documents of
different kinds sources, inspirational, references,
historical, people somehow involved authors, clients,
developers, managers, experts, related knowledge
areas, and so forth. Figure 5 illustrates a visionary
interface in which the evolution of the central document
is browsable (going along the stream that collects the
series of document's versions), and the displayed
version is surrounded by its context (the ring around the
document). A goal of the Klee&Co project is to devise
and implement an interface that comes close to this
visionary interface.

A first step toward an integrated environment is the

capability of managing documents of different nature
along with associated information that forms the
document context. This requires a semi-structured
definition of documents and a system that fills and
manages the structures according to the nature of each
document. Next a system to support the activity within
a company must be devised and developed. This system
requires an open architecture since it has to include the
tools already in use, filters and adapters to treat specific
file formats, and new components that implement the
innovative functionality.

In conclusion, the system we are developing must

therefore be very flexible , capable of managing and
distributing the knowledge created within a process
wherever it is needed and presenting it in any situation
in a suitable way.

mock-up of an artefact has been made. Of course, the

model cannot be included as is, but it is possible to
represent it electronically. Representations are useful
even for electronic documents since the original files,
e.g. MS Word or AutoCAD files, are often difficult to
manage because of their proprietary formats and of
their being too detailed to be presented as they are.
Representations overcome these two limits by
providing the best view of a document in every context.

In what follows, we discuss the structure of a document

and outline the architecture of the Klee&Co system.
The document structure

A comprehensive knowledge management system

needs to handle different kinds of items. Examples are
projects, user profiles and documents. A project is the
usual context in which DARC members perform their
activities. A project can be modelled as a collection of
documents and people. People are described by user
profiles that capture roles, interests and activities of the
persons who interact with the system. Profiles are used
to customise the system behaviour according to user
expectations. A document is anything produced within
a project.

The information associated with a document supports

the definition of its context and therefore of its
relationships with other documents. For example, the
kind of content specifies whether an MS Word file is a
technical report or a marketing presentation, while
keywords capture the knowledge embedded in the
document to allow for document classification and

The typical document at DARC is a text or a drawing

file created by an application like MS Word or
AutoCAD or any graphic design system. In our context
a document becomes a complex entity in which the
typical text or drawing file, i.e. the content, is just one
of the composing elements. Moreover, associated with a
document there are its versions to capture the evolution
of its content.

More specific relational indicators can be introduced to

define the relationships among documents. The
timestamp indicator, for example, defines the temporal
relation among the documents created within a project.
Assume that there is a project plan that defines the
expected time dependence among a set of documents.
Two possible representations of this relation can be
given: a Gantt chart where documents are associated
with timestamps or a file of documents labelled by the
values of the timestamp. In the former case, a reference
to the Gantt would be included in the context
information of the documents, in the latter the
timestamp values would be included in the knowledge
information section.

Each (version) of a document is composed of the

following parts:
General information: author(s), format, location, ...
The content: text, drawing, pictures, ... in specific
Content representations: summary, abstract, HTML
version, ASCII version, thumbnail, preview, ...;
Knowledge information: kind of content, keywords,
timestamps and other indicators' values;
Context information: notes, conversations, related

Beyond references to related documents, the context

information associated with documents allows
management of (short) documents that are exchanged as
attachments to another document. Examples of these
are notes and conversations. A note is a short text
associated with a document or part of it. Typically, a
note is a comment or a sketch on a picture or a chunk of
text. A conversation is similar to a news thread and
identifies a sequence of (mail) messages to discuss or
comment on (part of) a document.

The first two parts cover the typical information

associated with any document file. The others are
specific to the Klee&Co system. Each content
representation supports a different view of the
document. For example, the HTML format of a MS
Word document allows the visualisation of the content
in a Web browser, the summary could be used to give a
good understanding of the content without displaying
the whole document, and the ASCII version is better
exploited for automatic processing.

The Klee&Co architecture

Beyond supporting typical personal use, representations

address the use of documents in a social context. For
example, a MS Power Point version makes a document
suitable for presentations during meetings; a selection
of pictures together with the indication of the name of
the project and the name of a reference person could
form a document representation to be displayed in a
public space like the entrance hall. The Klee&Co
system will be able to build up and select the right
representations of documents, either automatically or
with user help.

The objective of the Klee&Co system is to support

users in every activity they perform within DARC. This
means that we need to augment a traditional Document
Management System, in our case DocuShare by Xerox,
with new functionality. The system should be able to
understand the form of use and behave consequently; it
should be possible to save and restore the current
working session; a seamless switch between common
tools, like editors and word processors, and our system
should be supported; uploading of documents and
information should be assisted by proper tools to collect
and organise the knowledge; accordingly, output tools
should address knowledge retrieval and presentation.

Content representations are also important since they

allow for the inclusion of non-electronic documents in
the knowledge base. Assume that in a project a wooden

The Web technology supports remote access from any

kind of platform and connection to many common
tools, it is the best choice for any successful knowledge

presented in Figure 5. Figure 7 is a snapshot of the

interface of the current prototype. The centre of the
screen is occupied by (a representation of) a document.
The windows around it define the context for that
document. Both the document and the context are
active. For example, when going on a note icon with the
mouse pointer on the document, a window opens over
the document to show the content of the note and the
icon of the author is highlighted; moreover, by clicking
the note it is possible to add a comment in different
ways through a pop-up menus. In the same way, going
on a related document icon the system opens a window
with further information, and clicking makes that
document the centre of the presentation and triggers
screen reorganisation.

management system that needs to be easily accessible

from any computer and location. Web access allows for
remote connection and interaction to both internal and
external users. Internal users, like members of a project
team, can work from home or any other location almost
as if they were at their workplace in DARC. External
users, like clients, can use the same environment to
access the workspace created for interacting with them.
The Klee&Co system is a Web-based system. The
multi-tier architecture of the current prototype is
sketched in Figure 6. A key issue in designing the
system was the inclusion of existing tools into the
original structure of DocuShare. The solution was the
introduction of a new tier that acts as a bridge between
the web server and DoscuShare, and interfaces COTS
and tools. The Klee&Co tier traps and processes the
requests coming from the user and prepares the output.
Moreover, the Klee&Co tier includes a set of agents
that collect and process data to build up the knowledge
related to projects, people and documents to meet the
requirements described in the previous sections.

Figure 7 - A snapshot of the Klee&Co prototype.

The document management system is the back-end that
acts as a knowledge repository. Tools like mailing
systems, search agents, and awareness agents beyond
the information supplied by the users contribute to
building up the knowledge. Filtering agents process the
input to extract and store the knowledge. Examples of
filtering agents that will be embedded into the Klee&Co
system are information filters, conversation managers,
document categorises (WebSOM; [12]) and keyword
extractors (KEA; [9]). Smart filters will play an
essential role since they have the task of automatically
building the representations and extracting knowledge
from the uploaded documents. Output agents will
process knowledge before being sent to the user. These
agents have the task of formatting what will be
displayed by the user interface, that is, the browser and
the software mentioned before.

Figure 6 The Klee&Co system.

The client side is a common Web browser augmented
by software components like plug-ins, JavaScript
scripts and Java applets to enrich the user interface.
Moreover, various applications will be embedded to
address specific activities, like PlaceWare to support
conferences and AskOnce to enhance searching (both
by Xerox).


By observing and analysing the practice of designers at

Domus Academy and designing a system to augment
their workplace, we have discovered that within a social
context the sense of place is not directly related to the
perception of its spatial dimension, but rather to its
capacity of bringing forth its main features from the
practice point of view. This has more to do with the
language it offers its inhabitants in speaking about their
common operations and about the things they create
than with its creating realistic simulations of the

The Klee&Co system offers different interaction

modes, according to the profile of the connected user, to
satisfy the different needs. For example, the project coordinator can discuss a detail of a product with the team
while sitting in a hotel room. The client can follow the
development of a product by browsing and discussing
the documentation made accessible to her at any time.
The system interface resembles the visionary interface

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Augmented places are not virtual copies of a physical
place: their spatial arrangements are not possible in the
physical reality, they are the genuine outcome of the
design of a new form of space, with qualities like
plasticity and flexibility quite absent from the physical
space where we live.


Only after we have conceived the new qualities of an

augmented place we can shift our attention to
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This paper reports on research done within the EC

funded Esprit Project, Klee&Co. The authors gratefully
acknowledge the other participants in the Klee&Co
project and in particular Alessandro Rancati of Domus
Academy, Lucia Massarutto and Thomas Schael of
IRSO and Luca Bernardinello and Domenico Perrotta
of DISCO at University of Milano Bicocca for the
many discussions on the issues presented here.
Particular thanks go to the members of the Domus
Academy Design Center for the patience and spirit of
collaboration they exhibited while observed by our
Finally, the authors wish to thank the anonymous
reviewers who offered comments helping them to focus
the Klee&Co project toward its goals.

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