Design Principles for Tools to Support Creative Thinking
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Creativity Support Tools is a research topic with high risk but potentially very high payoff. The goal is to develop improved software and user interfaces that empower users to be more productive, and more innovative. Potential users include software and other engineers, diverse scientists, product and graphic designers, architects, and many others. Enhanced interfaces could enable more effective searching of intellectual resources, improved collaboration among teams, and more rapid discovery processes. These advanced interfaces should also provide potent support in hypothesis formation, speedier evaluation of alternatives, improved understanding through visualization, and better dissemination of results. For creative endeavors that require composition of novel artifacts (computer programs, scientific papers, engineering diagrams, symphonies, artwork), enhanced interfaces could facilitate exploration of alternatives, prevent unproductive choices, and enable easy backtracking. This NSF-sponsored workshop brought together 25 research leaders and graduate students to share experiences, identify opportunities, and formulate research challenges. Prepared presentations in the mornings provided structured reviews of previous work, while open discussions in the afternoon encouraged broad participation and new directions. Two key outcomes emerged: 1) Formulation of guidelines for design of creativity support tools. Consensus grew about the necessity of low thresholds (easy entry to usage for novices), high ceilings (powerful facilities for sophisticated users), and wide walls (a small, well-chosen set of features that support a wide range of possibilities). The need for easy exploration of multiple alternatives (Support many paths, many styles) and powerful history-keeping (convenient backtracking and undo) emerged repeatedly. Other guidelines are captured in the report. 2) Novel research methods to assess creativity support tools. The complexity of creativity was a recurrent theme, leading this subgroup to define a five-dimensional model for researchers, addressing issues such as process vs. product, individual vs. social, and domain-specific vs. domain independent. Workshop participants generally found narrow application for controlled experimental methods, and stressed the need for longitudinal and observational studies that tracked usage of powerful tools by individuals and groups over weeks, months, and years. A case study approach based on applied ethnographic research and participant observation with domain experts was stressed, but the need to complement such observations with other methods such as field studies, surveys, and deep ethnographies appeared repeatedly. The workshop participants were eager to see a greater integration of creativity concepts in many projects and funding initiatives. By focusing on human creativity (processes, tools and products), novel and improved interfaces are likely to be proposed. By studying users of creativity support tools, refined understandings of how people create, cooperate, and discover are likely to emerge. Since creative innovations and discoveries have profound effects on science, engineering, work, and society, substantial and long-term research efforts can have high payoffs. Primary beneficiaries of this research include software and other engineers, diverse scientists, product and graphic designers, architects, and other technical professionals. Secondary beneficiaries include music composers, playwrights, and other new media artists. Of course, creativity support tools would also help children and students learn to express themselves creatively - and help them develop as creative thinkers. In summary, the workshop participants converged on three highly desirable goals. We are eager to: Accelerate research and education on creativity support tools by: o Making the case for increased funding for creativity support tool research o Encouraging investment in substantial multi-year longitudinal case studies o Proposing ways to create greater interest among researchers, students, policymakers, and industrial developers. o Provide appropriate software infrastructure and toolkits so that creativity support tools can be more easily built. Promote rigorous multidimensional evaluation methods by: o Understanding the benefits and limits to controlled experimentation o Developing observation strategies for longitudinal case studies o Collecting careful field study, survey, and deep ethnographical data Rethink user interfaces to support creativity by offering guidelines for: o Design tools for individuals and socio-technical environments for groups. o Promote low thresholds, high ceilings, wide walls, and powerful history-keeping o Support exploratory search, visualization, collaboration, and composition.