Related Worksheets

Abstract: A key feature of relational database applications is managing plural relationships—one-to-many and many-to-many—between entities. However, since it is often infeasible to adopt or develop a new database application for any given schema at hand, information workers instead turn to spreadsheets, which lend themselves poorly to schemas requiring multiple related entity sets. In this project, we propose to reduce the cost-usability gap between spreadsheets and tailor-made relational database applications by extending the spreadsheet paradigm to let the user establish relationships between rows in related worksheets as well as view and navigate the hierarchical cell structure that arises as a result. We present Related Worksheets, a spreadsheet-like prototype application, and evaluate it with a screencast-based user study on 36 Mechanical Turk workers. First-time users of our software were able to solve lookup-type query tasks with the same or higher accuracy as subjects using Microsoft Excel, in one case 40% faster on average.

Eirik Bakke, Paul Grogan, and Yod Phumpong Watanaprakornkul designed and implemented the original Related Worksheets prototype as a final project for the User Interface Design and Implementation class at MIT, then taught by Rob Miller. Our original Design Wiki is still around! Eirik later did a formal user study on the system, and wrote his Master's thesis about it.

The user study for Related Worksheets was done using StudyCaster, a Java-based tool for allowing test subjects to stream timestamped recordings of their computer screens to our server with a minimum of effort.

CHI Paper

PDF file A Spreadsheet-Based User Interface for Managing Plural Relationships in Structured Data (1.4MB, PDF file)
Eirik Bakke, David R. Karger, and Robert C. Miller.
CHI 2011: SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.