Performance, workload, and usability in a multiscreen, multi-device, information- rich environment

Work Environment Design

As having more than one computing device and/or monitors is becoming more feasible for individuals, a future trend is the of adoption of a multiscreen and multiple device approach to cope with distractions and multiple tasks. Although this may seem counterintuitive, more screens and possibly more devices may help focus one’s attention rather than serve as a distraction, making multiple tasks viewable at a glance across multiple screens and devices. Assuming each device has a different primary purpose, the additional screens may begin to approximate some of the inherent affordances of paper. That is, spreading out papers on a desk lets one’s eyes easily scan, which is a property hard to replicate on a single computer screen. Thus, coordination of multiple computing devices and screens is a strategy that may potentially improve one’s performance in an information-rich environment by focusing their attention and reducing their mental workload.

Potential benefits of multiscreen and multiple device environments were assessed using three different computing environments. A single factor, within-subject study was conducted with 18 engineering students in a laboratory experiment. Three levels for the computing environment factor included one with a desktop computer with a single monitor (control, condition A); one with a desktop with dual monitors, as well as a single tablet computer (condition B); and one with a desktop with a single monitor, as well as two tablet computers (condition C). There was no statistically significant difference in efficiency or workload when completing scenarios for the three computing environments. However, a dual monitor desktop with a single tablet computer (B) was  the ideal computing environment for the information-rich engineering problem given to participants, supported by significantly fewer errors compared to condition C and significantly higher usability ratings compared to conditions A and C. A single desktop monitor with two tablet computers (C) did not provide any advantage compared to a single desktop monitor (A).

Researchers: Jason J Saleem, PhD, Dustin T. Weiler, PhD

Publications from this work:

Saleem, J. J., & Weiler, D. T. (2018). Performance, workload, and usability in a multiscreen, multi-device, information-rich environment. PeerJ Computer Science, 4, e162.