Space To Think


This paper examines how increased space affects the way displays are regarded and used within the context of the cognitively demanding task of sensemaking. The studies conducted highlighted a number of ways in which large, high-resolution spaces can support sensemaking.


Large, high-resolution displays allow users increased simultaneous access to information.

Single monitor displays force users to make explicit context switches between windows/documents. This severely affects the user’s ability to make comparisons and requires the user to expend valuable mental resources on managing views rather than focusing on the problem at hand. Increasing the display size changes this dynamic, allowing the user to access more information at once.

Documents can be arranged into meaningful patterns and can be viewed at a size that does not cause loss of information inform (i.e. thumbnails).

The studies were described thoroughly and in great detail. Moreover, researchers made some keen behavioral observations (ex., they noticed that participants using one screen made paper notes whereas participants using the large displays did not).

The concept of multiple displays can be used as a form of external memory. Users can turn briefly to consult different documents/pictures, usually to check a piece of information, or to consult a map.


There are some limitations due to the limited support in window managers for large workspaces. For
example, “losing the cursor and windows and dialog boxes opening or gaining focus in unexpected locations are well known problems on larger displays, and will need to be addressed in the development of any future tools designed for spatial environments such as this one.”

The researchers only used 8 students for the comparative study and thus the results didn’t show significant difference between the two groups. A bigger subject pool may have benefitted the study.

Spatial environments with multiple displays create new possibilities that were not anticipated and are frequently not well supported by tools designed for conventional displays.