dan's face  
Daniel C. Robbins

TaskGallery Home Page

Related Pages:

NOTE: This web site is only meant to support the video. Watching the video is the best way to get a feel for this novel user-interface.

TaskGallery Specific Pages:
Video | Motivation | Description | Navigation | Cues | Windows | Tech | Studies | People | References

Project objectives

The TaskGallery is a running 3D research prototype user interface that expands the desktop into an entire office with an unlimited number of desktops.  The screen becomes a long gallery with paintings on the walls that represent different tasks, and the user moves quickly and easily from one to another with a simple series of mouse and keyboard commands. We tried to make the illusion appeal to the lessons in navigating physical space that we learned as children, so that people would “get” the system intuitively without having to learn or adjust to it. The less people have to think about how to work their computer, the more mental energy they have left for their real work.

Target audience

Home users and office productivity workers.

Unique features and innovations

  • Any normal, unmodified windows applications runs inside of a 3D environment.

  •  Users can customize the layout of tasks.

  • Files, documents, and applications are typically represented as snapshots (rather than icons) to aid in retrieval.

  • The individualized layouts of tasks and documents within tasks take advantage of users' spatial memory.

  • High-level control for common navigation prevents users from getting lost in the 3D environment.

  •  The standard windows manipulation controls are augmented with additional controls that provide high-level control for common window configurations: loosely stacked files, put files in an ordered stack, maximize one document, and compare several documents.

Measurable results

Our cognitive psychologists ran user studies to see whether the TaskGallery successfully engaged the knowledge and abilities people use to navigate physical space. Study participants told them that it seemed more natural to place tasks on the walls of the Gallery rather than on the floor or ceiling. Users were also very adept at remembering the depth ordering of tasks. This suggests that people feel compelled to treat the Gallery like a real-world environment, rather than just as an interesting desktop theme. In general, users preferred the TaskGallery to the existing Windows interface. Further studies are ongoing and will attempt to tease out the various advantages and qualities of using a 3D environment for normal productivity tasks.


The choice of a navigable spatial metaphor was partly motivated by a desire to leverage human spatial memory. An art gallery was chosen because of its familiarity. To increase ease of retrieval, the TaskGallery includes the images of documents and tasks in the space in addition to their spatial location and title cues. Classical mnemonic research has documented that mental cues in the form of visual images are an excellent way to enhance memory for items. Our previous studies have shown the strong influence of snapshot/thumbnail cues to aid spatial memory during the storage and retrieval of web pages.

The key areas our design focuses on are:

  • Easily understood 3D metaphors for virtual environments

  • Navigation cues

  • Resolving the tension between spatial consistency and dynamic rearrangement of data

  • Grouping of items at multiple granularities through a hierarchical, though fluid structure

  • Cues to alleviate standard problems in 3D environments, such as "floating windows" and depth confusion


We have developed a novel approach (redirection) to bring existing, unmodified Windows applications into a 3D virtual environment. The result is a platform for experimentation in 3D user interfaces, in which the user retains all familiar productivity tools. This also allows for a smooth transition between traditional 2D interfaces and our new 3D territory. This prototype will help us to refine our ideas as we design novel interfaces for information visualization, window-management, and general productivity tools.