Co.Design

An Interactive Whiteboard For Bell Labs Maps A Century Of Innovation

A tool for researchers could help change the way ideas surface at one of the country's most venerable technology companies.

When you're a company with an encyclopedic list of achievements that includes everything from the transistor radio to the telephone, your employees can't possibly be asked to remember every single innovation detail from your storied history. One can imagine the researchers at Bell Labs faced such a dilemma with their archives -- including over 80,000 publications and 25,000 patents. So how to bring all that information front-and-center for employees to use while brainstorming, without making them head to a computer and interrupt the concepting process?

Potion, an interactive firm in New York, took the concept of the whiteboard -- that almost cliché object of ideation -- and turned it into an interactive, indexable resource that allows Bell Labs researchers to access every title and abstract from their history -- a history which goes back to 1897!

The whiteboard's interface is organized into bubbles, an appropriate tool for the medium. Ideas can be grouped together, consolidated or pulled into new clusters as needed. Drawing a bubble momentarily wipes the field clean for a menu, where users can search by inputting the name of product, author, or a concept, pulling up results that can be displayed as part of the whiteboard itself.

The information itself isn't any more or less findable than in some kind of computer database, of course, but by letting researchers almost play with it in this unique, fingerpainting-like way, it's inevitable that they'll uncover some thread between their work and discoveries from the past. When the bubbles pop up, introducing similar concepts that researchers didn't think to search for, and in an inviting way that encourages exploration, there's a real possibility for the whiteboard to drive Bell Labs ideas in a new direction.

The whiteboard has recently been named a winner of the Core77 Design Awards for Interactive/Web/Mobile.

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