The Box metaphor

August 4th, 2006

Let’s assume that ‘my stuff / eportfolio’ is a box.


Im more likely to put stuff that already exists into a box than to create something to specifically put in a box.

Therefore, maybe we need to treat the ‘create something new’ functionality slightly differently to the other functions.

My Stuff (box) – things I can do directly:
– put something in it (including more, smaller boxes)


– search for something
– browse through it’s contents
– take something out of it
– organise stuff in it

Once ive got my stuff from the box, I can:
– Share it with others
– Make changes to it
– Put it in the bin
– duplicate it (photocopy, cd burn etc)
– stick some labels on it
– put it back in the box
– put it in a smaller box which I put into the main box
– put it into an entirely different box

I can also create something new which I might decide to put in the box.

I might also decide to create something but not put it in that box at all.

Please do all comment on this. If we get this sort of conceptualisation right, the design will come easy.

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4 Responses to “The Box metaphor”

  1. Anthony Forth

    I have issues with this and it maybe be ambiguity from the word ‘create’. All of the component parts of a portfolio are created elsewhere, so the instantiation of a portfolio is really an act of collation.

    In your metaphor, I see the portfolio as a small box and the act of collation the placing of items in that box, labelling them as they are put in. Therefore, I can’t see the purpose of a seperate area for creation (looking at this totally from a student perspective).

  2. g.d.carberry

    I need to understand where the ‘structured forms’ bits fit into all of this. Since these structured forms are tools to create stuff – just like Word, Photoshop etc.

    If we offer a means to create using structured forms, should we not also offer the means to create using the user’s choice tool too? I could go off and create a list in Word and then upload it when, in fact, there is a tool in the system for list creation anyway. It’s all about selling the benefits of this stuff back to the user.

  3. Thanh

    The box metaphor is OK but its not complete.

    Like Anthony says: a Portfolio is the box. A portfolio is also like any other “stuff” that we can put into another “larger” box.

    The point is a “portfolio” is just stuff. But in this case, its structured stuff. That is a box containing paper-filing may also contain a file-binder. The file-binder is the “portoflio” amongst the various paper-file stuff.

    Guy: you asked where does the pen and pencil come from in a previous mail. This is the same as asking where does the structured forms sit. I would make a clear distinction between the storage (the box) and the content type (stuff, files and portoflios). The third bit is the tool that create the stuff (pens and pencil).

    Coneptually, we need to let the user know that:
    a) this is the tool to create stuff;
    b) this is the box to put the stuff in;
    c) here’s a smaller, structured binder (portfolio) for organising stuff better within the box;

    That’s the conceptual thinking; what is its physical translation??

  4. Guy Carberry

    So it’s all a question of scope.

    Let’s narrow it down then. If this thing we are creating enabled the user to do a single task – i.e create a portfolio. What would be the steps a user would need to do to get the task done?