A collaborative approach to the design of interactive systems for the documentation of dance


The marriage of artistic creativity and computer technology is not a new concept. CAD
systems are well established as tools of trade in many creative fields such as character
animation and special effects production. This integration has motivated the
development of complex computer applications that supply artists with a greater means
of creative expression. Dance Notation applications that facilitate the documentation and
interpretation of movement notation scores are an example of this. Up until now
literature has placed emphasis on the fact that existing dance notation applications are
not equipped to detect or prevent errors made during the composition of movement
(Calvert et al. 2005). A possible explanation for this can be understood in regard to the
original intent and design of these applications. Typically, dance notation applications,
like MacBenesh and LabanWriter have been designed by and for expert use. As a result
this directly impacts the usability of these applications, which function more as drawing
tools and require an expert knowledge of them to operate effectively.


This research examines the difficulties associated with designing an appropriate system
of interaction, especially the interaction between an artist and system that will work to
facilitate the composition of Labanotation scores. It seeks to understand the complexities
of describing movement and the creation of Labanotation scores with computational
support tools for novice users of the language.

The range of human movement is vast. For that reason a systematic approach to the
description of movement is inherently difficult to structure and predict. Accordingly,
Labanotation is a complex system that consists of over seven hundred symbols. The
composition of Labanotation scores are contingent upon the selection of individual
symbols that when combined represent a description of movement. Therefore when
devising an appropriate course of interaction that assists a diverse description of
movement, it is necessary to involve potential users of the system to envision a flexible
structure to guide its composition.


This research is based on the premise that, we as designers create our own subject
matter in the act of designing new products or services. To facilitate this investigation
participatory design methods that involve users in the design process assist in capturing
a subjective account of user needs and requirements. This approach is built upon the
understanding that user-centered design and participatory design processes serve as
effective approaches to adapting technology for greater ease-of-use. In support of this
Carroll (2006) tells us that a greater understanding of the function end-users provide in
characterizing the variety of human activity in design planning and development has
seen their active involvement in the design process, much earlier on than it has
previously. Therefore, the users role as informants during interviews, task analysis
workshops and card sorting techniques, provide designers with valuable experiential
information regarding the process of describing movement. When combined with,
usability testing that involves observation of users who think aloud while composing
Labanotation scores offer designers a broad range of techniques and strategies to
develop interactive systems for the documentation of movement.

Key Research Questions

There are a variety of approaches and techniques in which Participatory Design
methods are implemented into the design process. The focus of this research seeks to
determine, how designers can effectively develop, document and represent knowledge
created during task analysis workshops, in a visual schematic to better understand the
users' perception of their needs and requirements. It briefly examines what types of
information can be visualized, the types of problems they represent and enable us to

Knowledge Representation

Arnowitz et al (2000) tell us that the purpose and representation of task analysis data is
as diverse in their design as the methods and theories that support their development.
While their research (Arnowitz et al. 2000) concentrates on the visual representation of
the task analysis, it is necessary to understand what type of resource they provide and
how they may be designed to be more useful to the participants involved in their creation
and development. Therefore, central to facilitating the development, documentation and
representation of various accounts of human activity through collaborative discussion
and agreement, is identifying what type of information can be documented and how it
can be visualized.

There exist three types of visual tools that effectively represent and structure
information. Hyerle (1996) defines these as 1) ‘brain storming webs’ for idea generation,
2) ‘task specific organizers’ for the order of operations and hierarchical structures, and 3)
‘thinking process maps’ for the comparison and connection of ideas. The significance of
these tools lies in their ability to characterize knowledge in a form that facilitates the
active generation, ordering, comparison and analysis of information in a collaborative
environment. Specifically they enable the construction of individual human thought to be
made explicit in dynamic forms for analysis (Hyerle 1996).

While each tool presents a distinct purpose for its use, I propose that a combination of
these tools can be used to visualise information, in an integrated form, and facilitate
participatory task analysis workshops. If used effectively a visual schematic that utilizes
components of task specific organizers and thinking process maps can provide a line of
reasoning that makes design decisions explicit. Through collaborative discussion and
mutual understanding an argument for specific modes of interaction and design artifacts,
can be made. In doing so, this requires a participant to act as informant and collaborator
in the early modelling of unstructured tasks and as analyst in the development and
rationale of design outcomes. The task analysis schematic below illustrates this

During a participatory task analysis workshop participant’s work together to
collaboratively construct a task analysis schematic. To begin, a functional requirement
(labelled R) is defined and then associated with a specific user goal (labelled G). Various
user tasks (labelled T) that accomplish this goal are then created in order to define their
utility and relevance to the goal. Documenting this information on a whiteboard enables
participants to openly contribute to and develop alternative tasks as a group. Once
documented this enables collaborative discussion and comparative analysis between the
various task descriptions to develop. The outcomes of these discussions are supported
by the documentation of arguments for or against their use. This is achieved by visually
connecting a description of the various claims made, to the appropriate task under
examination. Finally, to determine the underlying rational for the creation of design
artifacts (labelled D) it is necessary to subject these claims to further analysis. As a
group the participants assess the claims made for each task and then rank their
significance as criteria for the development of design artifacts. The outcomes of which
become the underlying rationale for the design of interface artifacts for implementation in
the proposed prototype application LabanAssist.


This research offers an alternative approach to the design and representation of task
analysis data for the development of interactive systems, with and for novice users of
Labanotation. Outcomes of this research have the potential to enhance design thinking
and enable the knowledge of mutual design decisions to be made explicit in a
collaborative environment. The development of visual schematics in the suggested form,
have the potential to enhance the communication of design alternatives and solutions to
inform the effective design of interface artifacts. Furthermore, it is envisaged that utilizing
a combination of visual tools that subscribe to techniques of task specific organizers and
thinking process maps (Hyerle 1996), to facilitate the collaborative diagnosis of design
problems and solutions, will be beneficial to the fields of participatory and interaction


Arnowitz, J, Fijma, D & Verlinden, J 2000, 'Communicating a task analysis with task layer maps'
Proceedings of the conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods,
and techniques, New York City, New York, United States, ACM Press
Calvert, T, Fox, I, Ryman, R & Wilke, L 2005, 'Applications of Computers to Dance,' IEEE Computer
Graphics and Applications, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 6-12.
Carroll, J M 2006, 'Dimensions of Participation in Simon's Design,' Design Issues, vol. 22, pp. 3-18.
Hyerle, D 1996, Visual tools for constructing knowledge, Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development, Alexandria, Va.