April 15-18, 2009
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Demonstrations: Description

Patchwork Prototyping a Collections Dashboard

Amy Jackson, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, USA
Michael Twidale, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
Richard Urban, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA

Studies of researchers who use cultural heritage materials suggest that neither collection-level nor item-level metadata sufficiently meets their needs when each stands alone - a problem that is compounded when information is drawn from across libraries, archives and museums into shared aggregations. The IMLS Digital Collections and Content (IMLS DCC) project ( is an aggregation that includes collection-level descriptions and item-level metadata records from digitization projects funded by IMLS National Leadership Grants (NLG) and Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants to cultural heritage institutions, in addition to recent additions from non-IMLS history-related collections. While the IMLS DCC interfaces loosely connect collection-level descriptions and item-level records through hyperlinks, the current interfaces do not provide users a quick sense of a collection's contours or the context from which items are drawn.

This demonstration will explore the problem of how to provide users with an immediate low effort understanding of collection/item contexts and relationships through the construction of a "collections dashboard" prototype.

Dashboards have been used in a variety of environments to provide improved access to complex datasets such as financial markets, elections results, or weather patterns. Notably, the Indianapolis Museum of Art adapted the dashboard metaphor to expose information about various museum datapoints, such as number of visitors, works on display, etc. A dashboard that visualizes essential features of collection/item context may be a useful tool for bridging the gap between current collection-level and item-level metadata.

During the demonstration we will invite attendees to engage in a live, hands-on patchwork-prototyping exercise using collection and item metadata from the IMLS DCC in an experimental interface sandbox. Patchwork-prototyping is a rapid-prototyping approach that takes advantage of existing open software systems (e.g. open source software, plug-ins and modules combined with open-APIs and web services, etc.) in order to quickly and iteratively explore a design space. Essentially, patchwork-prototyping uses lightweight mashups to produce proof-of-concept interfaces that can be easily modified and improved - an advantage over both low-fidelity paper prototyping and high-fidelity systems design. These provisional, easily revised prototypes can serve as resources to inform discussions of desirable features, functionalities and interfaces. Rather than the intimidating blank page where designers have to figure out what to build from scratch, multiple prototype ideas encourage innovation through mix and match and creativity through negation and revision: "oh no - I didn't mean that, I meant..." or "Actually now I look at it I wonder if it might be better to ...". During the demonstration we will test a range of different ideas combined with suggestions from attendees. As such this is not a conventional demonstration of a finished product, but rather a demonstration of a design process that can involve many participants in discussing desirable features, trade-offs, complications and unexpected advantages. A record of the evolving design and participant feedback will be made available online during and after the demonstration in order to extend the conversation.

Demonstration: Demonstrations 2 [Close Up]

Keywords: tools, methods, interface design, prototyping, mashups, multi-institution,