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B5. Object States and Activity Flow Visibility Understanding the current state of interaction objects can be crucial for the effective planning and execution of knowledge work. Especially for those object types that are higher volume and a main focus of workers’ ongoing efforts, product teams can envision appropriate states that could communicate potent meaning and directive pathways of action.


What useful or necessary states can your team envision for key interaction objects in your application concepts? How might these object states play meaningful and directive roles in your functional responses for targeted knowledge work practices?

I’m nego�a�ng a bunch of tougher deals at the same �me, so I’m constantly going back to my messages to see what I need to respond to...

More specific questions for product teams to consider while envisioning applications for knowledge work:

Examples from three knowledge work domains:

How do targeted individuals currently categorize the states of different artifacts in the tasks and larger activities that your team is striving to mediate?

A financial trader reviews the status of a number of negotiation messages in his trading application to determine whether he needs to put any more effort into them. Scanning the list, he decides to move forward with booking other trades (see illustration). An architect waits for her building modeling application to render one segment of a complex design. Since all of the elements involved in that rendering are shown as locked for editing until the process is complete, she temporarily navigates to another area in the model to make edits. A scientist turns to her lab’s information management application to review how many samples in a clinical study have not yet been processed. This information allows her to estimate a timeframe for the study’s completion and to plan her lab technicians’ work schedules. Object states can be displayed implicitly, based on various object attributes, or explicitly, through preordained state indicators. Recognizable and meaningful states can become an effective basis for organizing (I1) and locating useful categories of application content (I2, I3). They can also determine which objects and associated avenues of interaction (C4) are visible to particular users at a given time (C5). These gleanings can allow knowledge workers to prioritize their efforts and plan appropriate courses of action (D3, D5) in cooperative scenarios (A7, C7, G4) and standardized processes (C6, J3). Product teams can clearly define appropriate object states based on their ideas about how different interaction objects might fit into mediated work. They can envision how these states could be communicated though domain language (F10) and other methods that invoke workers’ deep seated understandings of place and priority (C1). Teams can also explore flexibilities that might allow organizations to define their own object states to meet local needs (C8, K11).

See also: A, B, C10, E3, F, J1, H, I7, M1, M4

What do particular states “say” about the work that has been accomplished on or around an artifact? The work that needs to be done? The people involved? What differences can your team find in how targeted organizations categorize these states? What differences may be difficult to reconcile? Will the states that workers currently talk about and use translate well into an interactive application? Why or why not? What novel states might targeted individuals and organizations value? How might the introduction of a new computing tool present opportunities to usefully standardize certain categorizations in work process?

All of the messages have easy to understand codes that tell me the state of each nego�a�on...

What new states will your team need to introduce in order to clarify and support your functionality concepts? What design communication could effectively explain these new conditions?


How might new states offload the need to be vigilant for certain changes in interaction objects, potentially tying into alerting functionalities?

Nego�a�on with Minor Changes

Has your team envisioned any single track processes that must be completed without interruption in order to be effective? How might these “untouchable” intervals influence objects’ states?



Nego�a�on with Major Changes 2


Cancelled Nego�a�on 4


How might error prevention and handling scenarios require additional object states? Could these error states impact larger, application states? Which pathways of action might be enabled or disabled when an interaction object is in various states?

When product teams do not actively consider the potential role of meaningful object states in their application concepts, opportunities to clarify knowledge workers’ current progress and options can be lost. When explicit state information is unclear or excluded, workers may need to effortfully dive into the attributes of interaction objects in order to derive their status (D2). These deficiencies may also lead to errors in timing (C9, G3) and less optimal work outcomes (L1). Conversely, object states that push too much standardization can lead to confusing and dissatisfactory limitations on work processes (A9). These design issues can force individuals and organizations to adopt unwanted changes in their cultures in order to match a system’s seemingly arbitrary rules (A4).

How do the physical placements and observed “ownership” of certain artifacts currently imply state information?

Financial Trader

Where might certain object state categorizations prove to be too confining for open or variable work practices? What interactions and visual representations could allow users to usefully understand states across collections of similar objects? It looks like things aren’t going so well with most of these, but I’ll wrap up the one with minor changes before moving on to making new deals...

Do you have enough information to usefully answer these and other envisioning questions? What additional research, problem space models, and design concepting could valuably inform your team’s application envisioning efforts?

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