Using a thesis project board

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Thesis project boards are physical visualization tools that help folks with both planning and monitoring a Master or PHD thesis. They also are social tools: Being on display in an office or a living room, a project board will show others "where your are".

Project boards can be created with any sort of materials, e.g. a whiteboard or wall plus PostIts. In this article we will focus on boards made with Legos and that is described in the Lego-compatible thesis project board article

This experience has been conducted in 2012/2013 and may be renewed in the future. Currently, the purpose of this wiki page was twofold:

  • Track the evolution of pilot user's appropriation of the concept
  • Write down ideas, etc.

The concept has been presented as a poster [1] at EIAH '2015

User testing

In November 2012, we started involving PhD students in the project.

User 1

Subject: PhD student in an earlier stage of thesis (project accepted by thesis commission)

User 1 went through several stages. Below we just summarize some elements:

Stages (so far, nov 2012 to March 2013)

  1. Used the project board
  2. Used a bigger standard Lego board in order to regroup, add extra handwritten bricks, add progress stairs.
  3. Use a still bigger standard Lego board in order to create connections, add "stories", etc.
  4. Destroyed the structure
  5. Designed visualization that focuses on a small set of essential current elements she is working on.

We define stage as a major shift. Within each stage, there have been variations that are just documented with pictures.

Stage 2

nov 19 2012
  • Includes labeling of chapters
  • Adds a general progress indicator (stairs brought in from home)
  • Identifies more issues
  • Adds "play" bricks
  • Two other PHD students want one
Version 2 proto
Version 2

Stage 3

nov 22 2012
  • Adds connectors (the arcs) visualizing how a task and an issue and 2 issues are connected
  • Uses extra bricks (e.g. a gate-in)
  • Adds persona (thesis advisor, kids, ...)
  • Identifies yet more issues
  • Layout is often changed/updated (sometimes several times per day)
Version 3

Stage 3b

  • This layout starts attracting other users for play. On 11/29 a colleague moved up the persona on the stairs.

Stage 4

January 8, 2013.

In the cloud. User feels that the project doesn't advance enough.

In the cloud

In addition, there is some focus on essential issues:

In the cloud, focus on essentials

Stage 5

February, 2013

Focus on two tasks

User 2

Subject: PhD student in an earlier stage of thesis (project accepted by thesis commission). Some literature review and development done.

User 2 shares office with user 1 and immediately wanted to work with a large board.

Stage 1

Nov 23 2012.

  • Separated issues into two different kinds (these related and external/others)
  • Associated chapter bricks with task bricks

The following pictures show a prototype after a few minutes into the "game"

First layout (prototpye in progress)
First layout (prototpye in progress)

Stage 2

8 January 2013

User 2 associated types of bricks next to each other and also added other artifacts

Second Layout

Stage 3

On february 2013, the same type of layout was used. Changes:

  • A new visualisation of some kind of pilot using handles
  • A broken link (pink arc that doesn't connect)
  • Some progress meters going up
Third layout showing some progress and new custom visualization
Third layout showing some progress and new custom visualization

User 3

User three (on a short visit, from a different institution) was shown the boards from use 1 and 2, liked the idea. Since we didn't print any special purpose bricks, he only given standard Lego pieces:

  • A medium-sized base plate
  • 3x3 tiles
  • 4x2 tiles
  • 2x2 tiles
  • 2x2 tiles with a question mark

His PHD project includes the design of a collaborative "knowledge tool", i.e. some kind of applied computer science, the kind that can be done in an interdisciplinary research lab....

Phase 1

Feb 26 2013 (about one week later)

Layout after a week including a printed artifact that represents a core concept of the system developed with the thesis
Layout after a week (top view)


  1. Schneider, Daniel, K. (2015). Visualisation de projets de thèse avec un dispositif physique et constructif. Actes de la conférence EIAH 2015, Agadir, Maroc. Preprint: