Evolution of the DesignShop Journal

[Editors Note: Since this essay was written, the DesignShop® Journal has continued to evolve. State-of-the-art, circa Spring 2000 is now what we call a "Web Journal," and is published via the Iternet and the World Wide Web. This transition has impacted not just style, but substence, not just media, but message. Nonetheless, this essay distills qualities and attributes of the Journal that are relevant no matter the media, and thus provides important context to a critical element of our process.]

November 9, 1996

In September of this year at the third Seven Domains® Workshop a number of puzzle pieces that had been somewhere on the table for decades finally fit together, revealing a complete picture of a vision long time in the making.

The idea was pretty simple; we just had to wait for technology and resources to catch up with us. First, though, some background.

What is a Journal and Why Does it Persist?

For those who may not know, the Journal is a multimedia, exhaustive record of the work done by participants in a DesignShop, design session, facilitated meeting, or break-out session. It consists of time-coded raw video tape footage; digital photographs or drawings stored on disk of any work that the participants or Sketch Hogs from the Crew drew on the WorkWalls or on paper; keywords and summaries of reports and conversations captured by documentors and stored on disks; the capture of environmental information such as music or books or magazine articles used. All of this is captured chronologically and published in a variety of forms including a bound paper document and a CD-ROM. Until now, it has only been marginally indexed.

No part of the MG Taylor methodology has been more hotly contested over the years than the production of the Journal. It consumes long hours of over a dozen Crew members for six or seven days in a major DesignShop. The resulting tome, when dropped to the floor creates a vibration that almost registers on the Richter Scale (I mean it's thick, man). Some clients in the past have neither read nor referred to it at all. Some have considered work on the Journal to be unglamorous drudgery compared with the flashier work products.

Nevertheless, it persists for several key reasons:

  1. You can't retrieve what you never captured in the first place.

  2. Memory fades, and the Journal actually increases in value over time.

  3. The clients who do use the Journal have found it invaluable.

  4. Sometimes the most key ideas are captured in the Journal and at the time of the DesignShop the participants were unwilling or unable to recognize and accept them. These ideas are stored so that they can resurface sometimes years later.

The marvelous thing about the Journal before September 10, 1996, was the inviting format and organization that made it very easy to sit down and read the entire document to get a sense of what the DesignShop was all about, even if you were not present.

The nightmares that arose from working with the old Journal came from the inability to search for specific ideas or concepts and pull these together into one place. This made it very time consuming to produce work products and finished video products.

Several features needed to be incorporated:

  1. Keywords to aid searches and to produce a fast-paced log of the video tape.

  2. Tie the written documentation to the video tape via time code-based Infologs and set the time code to local time. This allows multiple documentors to maintain a chronological relationship between their work.

  3. Put all forms of documentation into a database application and treat various sections of time during an event as individual records: a keyworder may create four or five records per minute, while someone writing summary text may create a new record once every two or three minutes.

All of this had been tried before but never as a part of a concerted action. For years we've tied the documentation to tape counters on cassette tapes, but these were not in time code, and counters varied from machine to machine.

We have taken down keyword documentation in the past but had no way to link it chronologically with other types of documentation.

We've used database applications for documentations, notably Hypercard and Lotus Notes in Orlando.

We've Infologged entire Journals, but never all of the pieces that make up a Journal.

The New System

Now we have a complete system in place at the KnOwhere Store in Hilton Head and one of our client's facilities in Chicago. Video cameras on the floor are tied to a switcher run by a technical director. Feeds from the switcher run to video monitors in front of each documentor (who can now be anywhere in the world via the Internet). Time code is stamped on the video picture and computers are synchronized to it. Time code is set to local date and time. Computers are connected via a LAN so they can share the same database and time code-based Infolog numbers are calculated automatically each time a new record is created.

There are several documentation roles which can be performed by a variable number of people depending on the structure of the Crew.

  1. The Keyworder creates a new record each time the topic, referenced graphic on the walls, or speaker changes. The Keyworder breaks up longer speeches into small chunks--anytime a new paragraph seems in order. Entries consist of only key words or memorable phrases separated by commas.

  2. The Summary Documentor creates a new record each time a major theme emerges or the conversation or report swings into a completely new topic. He has considerable latitude in determining when that is. The style of writing may paraphrase or quote the speakers, or summarize the speakers in a journalistic fashion.

  3. The Wall Mapper creates a new record every time a new image is spotlighted or referred to on the WorkWalls or elsewhere in the environment. This could be a Hypertile, a diagram drawn on the walls themselves, or a physical model placed in the room. He also keeps a tile map that shows the relative position and order in which different graphical elements were presented. This is particularly important for work placed on large walls. The Wall Mapper does not drop the actual images from the wall into the database

  4. The Digital Camera Artist captures images from the wall or from Hypertiles, or images of physical models on time coded video tape as either video or stills and hands them off to the Digital Graphics Director to merge them with the Wall Mapper's database.

  5. The Digital Graphics Director merges images from the Walls, Hypertiles, or physical models in the environment with the correct records in the Wall Mapper's database. Now all of the graphics are maintained in the database (or they may be linked to the records instead of physically stored) in chronological sequence of presentation.

  6. The Editor is in charge of continuity, style and accuracy of the content. Whoever captures the raw documentation is responsible for the clean-up and first edit and then the work is passed on to the Editor.

  7. The Link Manager is the database developer and manager and makes sure that all of the records are feeding into the database properly, with the correct Infolog numbers.

Pros and Cons

The old style Journal had a flow to the text much like a novel or a textbook. It was easily read from front to back like a novel.

The new Journal has a more chaotic feel to it, which definitely has jarred some readers, while others absolutely love it. Keyword records mingle with longer summary statements and graphics. The new look, being in a database, has a different aesthetic when printed on paper (some say that the term "different aesthetic" is the politically correct way of saying something else).

The new Journal truly shines in its electronic form. Records can be sorted, searched, and grouped according to any number of criteria. The different layouts can be changed to provide different views of the information in each record. Producing work products and finished video programs will be much easier in the future.

So far, the increased use of technology and some other, undiagnosed factors are causing the production of the new Journal to stretch out longer than that of the old one. If these challenges can be overcome, however, the new Journal should be published after its first edit and available electronically.

It is possible to bring the look and feel of the new Journal closer to that of the old style, simply by removing the Keywords records to a separate section. That leaves the summary text and graphics to make up the body of the Journal, which is precisely the composition of the old Journal.

The Journal is still only as good as its documentors. Crew members now have higher standards of writing, camera work, switching, editing, and database design to aspire to.


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