Space To Think: Large High-Resolution Displays for Sensemaking

Space To Think: Large High-Resolution Displays for Sensemaking [1]


The authors built a large display system for a personal workstation. They used a 4x2 (column x row) grid of 30" monitors. Their goal was to study the effect of this kind of display space on the ability to solve complex, "sensemaking" problems.


  1. Having this much space allows items to be located in a meaningful spatial relationship, not just someplace that fits.
  2. Interesting example of spatial relationship: Documents organized chronologically from left to right, then groups vertically by category.
  3. A primary benefit of this space was what the authors called "an easily accessible external memory". Participants would glance at the documents, large enough to be readable, to remind themselves of relevant information.
  4. The Pirolli and Card "sensemaking loop" consists of six linked stages: external data sources, shoebox, evidence file, schema, hypotheses, and presentation.
  5. The small-display group used external notes to record intermediate observations; the large-display group could either record this information in a text file window, or represent it on-screen by document placement.
  6. The large-display group used highlighting of document pieces rather than creating a separate file of notes.
  7. They suggest conducting a longitudinal study over several months to see how analysts adapt to using a large display.


  1. The authors were unable to measure any quantitative differences in the analysts between the large-screen test group and the small-screen control group on the sensemaking problem they were given.
  2. The subjects were not given much "practice" time or any instructions or suggestions on how to use the space. Also, they only used standard Microsoft Windows tools and applications, with no special window manager capabilities to deal with such a large display. Thus, the study may have under-represented the actual impact of having a large space.
  3. The number of test cases and subjects was rather small and the analysis was mainly qualitative, making the results difficult reproduce.
1. Christopher Andrews, Alex Endert, and Chris North, Space to Think: Large High-Resolution Displays for Sensemaking.