The eSPACE project (2001-2003)
Funded by the EPSRC PACCIT programme
The goal of the eSPACE project was to help agents and customers collaborate more effectively when developing complex, tailor-made products like hi-fi systems, insurance portfolios, fitted kitchens or digital TV packages. At the beginning of the project we conducted an in-depth six-month field study looking at how agents and customers plan and build up travel products. The study revealed that the collaborative process is often hampered by asymmetries in the planning process: the agent finds it difficult to communicate and share information about the product while the customer finds it difficult topiece together all the different aspects of the holiday experience. To overcome these problems we built an innovative workspace, called the ‘eTable’ that uses interactive dynamic visualisations and user-centric interactive planning tools. The designs were informed by our conceptual framework of external cognition (Scaife and Rogers, 1996).
The eTable has been placed in trade shows across the world andhas been evaluated in use at a leading travel agency. It has met with overwhelmingly positive responses. Customers come away with a much clearer idea of what they will be doing when. Consultants are able to explore options with customers in a much more integrated way. One consultantcommentedthat the eTable enables her to ‘draw the customer in’ by providing an attractive vicarious experience of the holiday. ‘It’s much easier to sell when the client can see everything, they get excited when it starts taking shape.’ Commercial companies have also expressed interest and weare currently in negotiations with a major international travel company to develop the eTable intoa new system for the travel industry.
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