Junior Researchr: A design proposal

May 18, 2011, [MD]

This spring, I took a class called "Knowledge, Media and Learning", where one of the assignments was to do research and create a design proposal. Together with Rebecca Cober and Lixa Lin, we decided to look at the research workflow for a junior researcher, such as a graduate student. Although we could think of many ways in which the infrastructure of academic publishing could be optimized, we wanted to restrict this proposal to what could be done, given the existing infrastructure. (However, we were very inspired by a paper comparing management of academic metadata with MP3 collections, and added some of this to our proposal).

We began by looking at existing software, and capturing screenshots of some of the designs that we found elegant or practical. After brainstorming various issues and possible solutions, we collaboratively wrote a "future scenario", "a day in the life of a junior researcher". Finally, our designer-talent Rebecca created a diagram of our thinking, and using a number of different existing programs, and some "sleigh of hands", we made a screencast of what an ideal workflow "could look like".

We based ourselves on Papers, with its very friendly design and high usability, but "added" a number of functions that the developers of Papers would be surprised to see. We used Skim to show highlighting of papers, and DevonThink to show displaying and sorting through snippets, with Kindle integration. Inspired by the graphical interface in SciPlore, we used Tinderbox to mock up a "mind map" view of the snippets, and finally brought it back to Papers.

We hope none of the authors of all these excellent packages will object to our borrowing them for this little movie. We did make very clear in the introductory text that this does not represent existing functionality, but hopefully it can be an inspiration for developing some of this functionality in the future. (Despite of this warning, one person who viewed it was very excited, and asked how he could download this new version of Papers).

Quite apart from this mock-up, but perhaps partly inspired by it, I've been working hard at setting up my "PhD information architecture", figuring out how to keep notes, references, citations, PDFs etc organized in a way that both supports my own knowledge work, and lets me share as much as possible with others. I've come up with a pretty neat solution, which I will write more about soon.


Stian HĂ„klev May 18, 2011 Toronto, Canada
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