Project: Balancing Privacy and Awareness in Office Settings

Co-workers who are physically distributed in the same building often obtain information about others through the windows in office doors. Using the information gathered by looking through the window, they can determine whether it is a good time to initiate a conversation with the occupant. There are, however, two problems with ordinary glass windows. First, there are times when the window does not provide enough information, such as when the occupant is away. Second, there is potential to violate the occupant’s privacy; as a result of the privacy risk, people often cover their windows entirely. If office windows are to work efficiently as a support for collaboration, there must be a balance between awareness and privacy. In this research, I augmented the functions of a physical office window with a computer-mediated replacement called the Magic Window. The Magic Window collects video of the occupant, mediates the signal in various ways, and then presents the altered view on a screen that replaces the glass window. The Magic Window provides a better balance of awareness and privacy in office settings by allowing occupant to differentiate the amount of awareness information based on the viewer. The Magic Window system was tested in an eight-month field trial. The trial showed that the augmented window did provide a balance of privacy and awareness, and also raised a number of issues that will aid the design of future design of co-present media spaces.

Contact James Kim if you would like more information about this project.


Hyun Hoi James Kim Carl Gutwin
University of Saskatchewan
Sriram Subramanian
University of Bristol