MAS.961 | Spring 2008 | Graduate

Special Topics: Designing Sociable Media


Assignment 2: Design Problem 1 - Interaction Space Design

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“Legible” architectures help us to understand the functions of different spaces and the behaviors that are appropriate within them. Sometimes the functionality is interent in the form: the windowless cubicle of a dressing room provides visual privacy, while the curtain-like door makes it clear that auditory privacy should not be expected. At other times, the functionality is a result of learned understanding of the meaning of the form: the lines that delineate the right from the left side of the road do not offer any physical barrier to traffic, but they provide drivers with a clear understanding of where they should be and where others will be driving. Sometimes the meaning derives from both function and culture: a room furnished with beanbag chairs invites more informal and playful conversation that one with high-backed Victorian chairs, both because of the cultural associations with such chairs, and the way of sitting that each enforces.

How does this translate to virtual spaces? We need to think both about what are the functionalities we wish to convey and about the designs we can use to communicate them.


Donath, Judith, and Fernanda B. Viégas. “The Chat Circles Series: Explorations in Designing Abstract Graphical Communication Interfaces.” Proceedings of the 4th Conference on Designing Interactive Systems: Processes, Practices, Methods, and Techniques. ACM, 2002.

Buy at MIT Press Dondis, Donis A. “Composition: The Syntactical Guidelines for Visual Literacy,” and “The Basic Elements of Visual Communication.” Chapters 2 and 3 in A Primer of Visual Literacy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1974. ISBN: 9780262540292. [Preview in Google Books]


  1. Read the papers listed above.
  2. Describe one example of legibility in the physical world. It can be as simple and ubiquitous as, say, an analysis of what different kinds of doors convey and how they do so; it can be as specific as a particular room or object. You should draw from the readings of last week (e.g. Don Norman) as well as this week’s in your assessment.
  3. Design a new conversational interface. Keep in mind the issues of legibility and metaphor that we discussed earlier. Your goal with this design is to make a 2D space that incorporates different functions in different areas.
  • You can loosely base your design on Chat Circles - in this assignment we are not concerned with changing the representation of the user, so simple circles are a useful placeholder for people. The focus here is on the environment and how different spaces function differently and convey that difference.

  • You need to think about what are the different functions your space supports. I suggest some ideas here, you may use these or think of others:

    • spaces with “hearing range” and broadcast spaces
    • spaces where something special happens, like a raffle
    • spaces where special behaviors are expected, like listening to a speaker, or to music, or watching a film

    Board games and sports fields may also offer some inspiration, as they often have different zones in which different rules apply.

  • You need to think about how these differences are conveyed. Is it via lines? symbols? “physical” barriers (the circle cannot move across something)? You may choose to do something purely visual - or perhaps experiment with designing a visually illegible space that had barriers and other delineations discovered only by attempting to move in it.

  • You are responsible only for designing it - no implementation is expected. However, part of your challenge is to articulately convey the function and intention of your design.

Student Work

Seth Hunter

Sohin Hwang

Lana Swartz

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Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2008
Learning Resource Types
Problem Sets with Solutions
Projects with Examples