Innovations in Visualization

Orientation in Tabletops

Russell Kruger
Sheelagh Carpendale

Roles of Orientation in Tabletop Collaboration

In order to support co-located collaboration, many researchers are now investigating how to effectively augment tabletops with electronic displays. As far back as 1988, orientation was recognized as a significant human factors issue that must be addressed by electronic tabletop designers. As with traditional tables, when people stand or sit at different positions around a horizontal display they will be viewing the contents from different angles. One common solution to this problem is to have the software reorient objects so that a given individual can view them ‘right way up.’ Yet is this the best approach? If not, how do people actually use orientation on tables? To answer these questions, we conducted an observational study of collaborative activity on a traditional table. Our results show that the strategy of reorienting objects to a person’s view is overly simplistic: while important, it is an incomplete view of how people exploit their ability to reorient objects. Orientation proves critical in how individuals comprehend information, how collaborators coordinate their actions, and how they mediate communication. The coordinating role of orientation is evident in how people establish personal and group spaces and how they signal ownership of objects. In terms of communication, orientation is useful in initiating communicative exchanges and in continuing to speak to individuals about particular objects and work patterns as collaboration progresses. The three roles of orientation have significant implications for the design of tabletop software and the assessment of existing tabletop systems.


Russell Kruger, Sheelagh Carpendale, Stacey D. Scott and Saul Greenberg. Roles of Orientation in Tabletop Collaboration: Comprehension, Coordination and Communication. Journal of Computer Supported Collaborative Work, 13(5-6):501-537, 2004. PDF Paper