Bell Labs Global Whiteboard
Alcatel-Lucent, Bell Labs
Bell Labs Global Whiteboard
This large-scale interactive whiteboard presents every paper and patent published by Bell Labs. It showcases the lab’s legacy of innovations and recent inventions. It reveals connections between their past innovations, including the telephone and fiber optic cable and newer innovations like advances in green energy and cell phone technology.
Phillip R. Tiongson, Principal Jared Schiffman, Principal Caroline Oh, Lead Designer Young Sang Cho, Lead Developer Xiaoyang Feng, Developer Jeff LeBlanc, Developer Thomas Gerhardt, Developer Kieran Lynn, Database Developer Allison Farber, Producer Kacie Kinzer, Producer
Jan Moorman: The interactivity is central to the exhibit; it's not supplementary or removed. It's about mining knowledge, and users can work in a well instructed space. Design is more than skin deep - it goes down to the information you are connected with and immersed within, and this piece displays that elegantly. Gregg Wygonik: It's something working, fully working; people of all ages are approaching and using it. They've been able to think through each interaction because it's a fully implemented system. Todd Wilkens: Design is about making, not just about thinking. These guys made a thing. It has some shortcomings, but they pushed it all the way through; it's real; they thought it all out. They incorporated a lot of what's possible in interactive design - tactile interaction, awareness of people in proximity, multi-device inputs, and data processing.
Bell Labs Global Whiteboard
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
To commemorate Bell Labs’ one hundred plus years of research and innovation, we designed an interactive whiteboard that presents every paper and every patent published by Bell Lab’s talented scientists. The primary goals for this 40 foot-long interactive display were to showcase the lab’s unparalleled legacy of innovations and highlight their recent inventions. Bell Labs challenged Potion to show the connections between their past innovations, including the telephone and fiber optic cable, and their newer innovations like advances in green energy and cell phone technology. In addition, the whiteboard needed to provide a digital community space for Bell Labs’ employees. It was designed to give researchers an opportunity to showcase their work and connect it to the other innovations in Bell Labs’ scientific community.
There were two challenging aspects of this project. The first was providing access to a wide breadth of the content, including photos, descriptive text, illustrative diagrams, videos, presentations and scans of original papers. To show the depth of the content, we built a custom tag system that included not only the general properties of each invention (creators, year, lab, and more) but also the higher level properties that related to the fundamental goals of the research, such as ‘optimization’ or ‘greenification.’
The second challenge was to show the depth of detailed information (like scholarly articles and videos) generated by the Lab. The extra large screen gave us the opportunity to showcase the Lab’s breath, depth, and history in an instantly reconfigurable, linked, dynamic visualization.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
The approach we brought into this challenge was Connection and Evolution. Through our dynamic tag and link system, we were able to demonstrate connections between contemporary innovations, as well as their relation to past, present, and future research. This dynamic visualization supports multiple ways of visualizing data, allowing researchers to view their work in different ways and explain their work to others in a fluid and organic way.
Although not part of the original project plan, Bell Labs asked to contribute to development of the algorithm behind the interactive so they could use it for future work. To date, they have been the only client to ask, “Could you expose some of the primitives of the tagging algorithm, so our researchers can improve it?” In response, we gave them an Advanced Programming Interface and they modified the building blocks of the way the program tags data! The researchers were thrilled to have had a role in the whiteboard’s development and they can now tinker with the system we built for them.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
The design of this project focused on providing a global view of Bell Labs research to highlight previously unseen connections between researchers and innovations and create a forum to showcase over 100 years of scientific advancements. Unlike many of our other projects, the primary audience was internal to the Bell Labs. This stood in contrast to most of our projects which are designed to reach a wide general audience.
As our primary stakeholders, Bell Labs researchers take an immense pride in being part of a global community of thousands of researchers spanning more than 130 countries. Therefore, the project had to speak to the rigorous scientific and engineering community of Bell Labs in a way that would create a sense of community, ownership and connectedness, while encouraging interaction and collaboration between the members. As a result, the content of the whiteboard depends heavily on in-depth technical information, such as abstracts of patents or illustrative diagrams. To provide a sense of scale, we created a realtime “Patent Clock” that keeps track of the ever growing number of Bell Labs patents worldwide.
The secondary audiences were Bell Labs customers, prospective employees, and visitors who come to Bell Lab’s headquarters. By providing an in depth view of Bell Labs’ incredible research history, we aimed to help visitors appreciate Bell Labs’ innovations and understand the rich heritage of the institution.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
There was a rigorous research period for this project, as was fit for a pioneer research institution. We spent a lot of time talking with the scientists and exploring their articles and documents. In response to our findings, we chose five guiding principals that drove every successive stage of development. These were: Connective, Inspiring, Substantive, Fresh, and Transformational. We wanted the display to be “Connected” through research and theory, “Inspiring” with an element of awe, “Substantive” in depth and breadth, made “Fresh” by content drawn directly from innovations that are 70% recent, and “Transformational” with a dynamic, animated, visually engaging interface.
Based on these Principals, we created “Constellations” as the visual language of a Whiteboard. The animation (speed, timing, paths) resembles that of constellations and planets, with an algorithm that borrows heavily from Newton’s 3rd law (for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction).
Three modes of interaction can be used to access the whiteboard. Through touch, visitors can interact with visual elements representing innovations and view the full content in a large display. From there, visitors may enlarge photos, explore an article in greater detail, or move on to a related innovation.
The second mode of interaction uses infrared sensors and our custom motion detection software to sense when people are walking near the display. This mode of interaction/reaction is focused on employees who pass the whiteboard on a daily basis, but don't have time to stop and play with the interactive. As they walk, they "trip" upon certain innovations, causing them to momentarily pop-open. Inviting text such as “Psst... Come closer...” invites the casual passerby to come closer.
The third mode of interaction goes through an iPad controlled by Bell Labs’ docents, tour leaders and executives. The custom app allows the staff to cue specific papers, video, images, etc. and highlight special content.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
The value of our design is a Sense of Wonder. While we attempted to visualize the creative and scientific output of a well-established institution, we provide full access to thousands of innovations and inventions that Bell Labs developed in the past century. These innovations, which include the telephone, the transistor and the laser to name a few, have had an unprecedented impact on our world.
We aimed to help Bell Labs researchers remember and appreciate the story of their institution and the rich heritage behind it, to foster a sense of ownership and collective pride. By building a dynamic visual system, we were able to reveal connections between past, present and future innovations in way that deepens our understanding of science, discovery, research and innovation, and leaves Bell Labs’ researchers with a sense of wonder.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
We wish we had more time to explore even more ways to visualize the Bell Labs data. We had an incredibly rich source of content and we had time only to scratch the surface. If we had the opportunity to work on this project further, we would have found even more ways to connect the content and express the connections between past, present and future innovations.