The Communication Studio


During the "first wave" of online interactivity in the 1980's it became clear that

the UX Practice must handle 4 jobs


1 : Global HTML-like "tags" to identify and control coherent page elements and stylesheets


2 : Information "placeholders" to allow easy updating of graphically sophisticated pages


3 : Flexibly-defined "info hooks" so that data could be easily manipulated by software engines


4 : Platform-independent "identifiers" so that information could be delivered in a range of formats

The newly emerging interactive online industries had to build a large number of pages that could be updated easily, were platform independent, and retained some "meta-information" intelligence about themselves. We didn't really have many standards in the interactive industry just yet, so I invented my own data-tagging system. It was crudely XML-ish - but it worked.

Metadata tagging is Information Architecture

The separation of data Content from presentational Context allows us to provide Content Integration through Context Management.


Design Tools

Here are the products that The Communication Studio put on the market to support the "first wave" of interactive services in the US between 1984 and 1988.

Portrait:  Bill Porter (1985)

Early TCS collaborator Bill Porter provided substantial programming and inspiration for many of the products described here.



Context Management System

The TextUp Workstation lets you quickly edit graphically sophisticated pages through a simple Template and Clip Art-driven design tool.

CitiVision Intrnet Services

Indiana University Campus Map

Nynex Online Directory

Sony Videodisc Catalong

Prime Viewbase System

Edit, merge & highlight Text content

Merge graphic Clip

Generate Bar Charts and Histograms

Custom Font Styles for Text Titling

Manage your production process

This product was a bit ahead of its time: We engineered in some of the strongest pre-Web attributes of HTML, CSS, and even XML.

Textup is a rudimentary meta-information tagging system that provides annotation, templating and an English-language-y user interface that allows a person with basic secretarial skills to easily update graphically sophisticated pages safely and quickly.

TextUp, Show and OTTO had a rebirth in 1990 when I re-engineered those template management techniques into the Electronic Sales Assistant for the Newspaper Association of America.



Clip Art

Clip Art

Our Clip Art imagery was specifically designed for use with TextUp templates.

We offered hundreds of images and animations, including corporate logos, product & sports logos, icons, portraits, backgrounds, illustrations, maps, animations, bar chart styles and custom font styles.

Sports team logos, in particular, were integrated powerfully with templates in Otto, the automated version of TextUp.

Okay, okay.... so the logo images displayed above look kind of crude. Bear in mind that they were done in 1984 with 1984 tools and were intended to be used on available 1984 technology. Which is to say... a computer screen that offered 320 pixels of resolution and all of 16 colors.

Hey, you work with what you've got.


Interactive Database

This fully-featured site platform is targeted as a standalone self-service information "kiosk" that could be updated online.

The IIA Conference

Environment Main page

IIA Floormap page

In 1986 we approached the Information Industry Association with a proposal to provide an interactive kiosk on the floor of their tradeshow and conference in New York City.

  • Exhibitor Directory
  • Exhibitor Floormap
  • Bulletin Board
  • Information About the IIA
  • Conference Meeting Update
  • Quick Schedule
  • Joint Venture partnering list
  • Graphic Presentation Showcase
  • Help/Tutorial section
  • Automated Ad Billboard

We provided a major tradeshow with a full suite of convention floor services - And we made money. Here's how: the Interactive Kiosk proposal



Page Presenter


This billboard manager lets you create, edit and present a group graphicically-sophisticated pages as an automated -or manually-controlled - "slideshow" that can be displayed on any computergraphic device.

When combined with our TextUp templates and Clip Art, you have .... uhhhh ...

... Actually you have networked, device-independent, updateable, animated PowerPoint-like presentation templates - In 1984.

TextUp, Show and OTTO had a rebirth in 1990 when I re-engineered those template management techniques into the Electronic Sales Assistant for the Newspaper Association of America.


EDNA (EDit NAplps)

Annotated Code Disassembler

This technical tool displays the underlying code of a NAPLPS computergraphic file with referential annotation - Also allows simple editing. It was our first and most fundamental design tool.

Because, of course, once you have a code dis-assembler it also means that you have a code re-assembler.

This fundamental "Rosetta Stone" engine allowed us to take pages apart, tag the parts, and thereby separate Data Content from Presentational Context. Now we have templates, stylesheets, clip art, metadata tags, and the ability to produce data-driven pages - as well as some other nifty stuff.



Automated Page Formatter

This software page generator engine takes a "bare bones" simple text file, automatically reformats the data in it into graphic templates, and stores the result under a new filename. In many ways, Otto may be viewed simply as an automated version of TextUp.

Example: SportsTicker Hockey Score Update

Slide #1

Text-only sports info

Parse the "raw" text-only SportsTicker feed according to the Data Rules.

Data 1 : Home Team : "New Jersey"

Data 2 : Home Team Score : "2"

Data 3 : Visiting Team : "Montreal"

Data 4 : Visiting Team Score : "0"

Data 5 : Period of Play : "2"

Slide #2

Team Logo library

Identify and affiliate the appropriate Team Logo Clip art with the Data.

In this example, the New Jersey Devils logo is matched to the data item

"NHL : Home Team : New Jersey"

Slide #3

Enhanced Sports info page

OTTO assembles the finished (enhanced) page:


+ Logo Clip Art

+ SportsTicker data


The Automated Page Formatting Engine

"Batch" processes a group of files

Reformats a single file of ASCII text information into multiple display formats (for different applications.

Merges graphics on basis of rules

Generates Bar Charts and histograms on the basis of the incoming data

TextUp, Show and OTTO had a rebirth in 1990 when I re-engineered those template management techniques for the Newspaper Association of Americai as the Electronic Sales Assistant.

It was all based on implicit and explicit metadata tagging of information. And since all Otto templates are completely tagged, you can also custom-edit individual pages with our CMS TextUp tool.


Our Clients

These organizations licensed TCS productivity software between 1984-1990:

Before the Web and during the Transitional Surge

Corporate Staff Services Intranet and Public Kiosk
Internal usage, productivity consulting, China Comm 84, Prodigy
Page creation for campus info system
Direct in-store marketing and Cable TV ad channel
Publishing tool for Electronic Yellow Pages & online advertising
Electronic signage billboard for convention Center
Home information system
Internal corporate business systems
Publishing "front end" for mainframe systems
Page creation tool for videodisk integration
Billboarding tools for electronic signage
Publishing support for online consumer service
London (UK) Docklands Development
Public access kiosk
National Bureau of Standards
Assessment of interactive standards
Sheridan College
College interactive billboard
Herman Hospital IFCD
Hospital public & private info systems




John Vaughan & Bill Porter (1983)

These were some early software concepts that The Communication Studio prototyped, but never fully marketed during the "first wave" of interactivity in the early-to-mid 80's.

Some of the concepts were kind of forward-looking.

John Vaughan and Bill Porter in the loft (1983)


Phoenix (1986)

Smart Art


Screen Designer featuring Automated Field Labeling. This was to be the "next step" for the TextUp suite of productivity tools. Pretty sweet - especially this early on the curve.

PHOENIX is a graphics screen creation system that allows you to dynamically add metadata tags to the design elements as you create a page. Features include:

Iconic Menus can be relocated anywhere on the screen.

Automated "One-Step" Metadata Field Labelling

Enter Customized Text Font (using TCS Text Font Library)

Merge Clip Art File

On-Screen Text Formatting and Entry

"Elemental Design" editing controls

Full range of NAPLPS drawing and animation capabiliies

Store output as Bitmap or NAPLPS Vectorgraphics

As far as I can tell, PHOENIX was one of the first screen-design tools to offer integrated information tagging as one of the design features.

It allowed you to exercise robust Content Management as part of your site design.


Midi Vidi (1986)

See / Hear


Integrated Music/Graphic Construction Set wedded to the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) standard for "musical communication"

  • "Sound-Synchronous" MIDI Interface permits
    • Drawing and Cursor Control
    • Dynamic Color Definition
    • Display Timing Controls
  • Keyboard/MIDI/Execution Table Interrupts (Live Performance)
  • MIDI SOFMACRO Assembly
  • Updatable Graphic Themes
  • Edit Images Selectively
  • Output as MIDI Execution Table

MIDI-VIDI Production Unit

Requires high level of expertise and knowledge in creation of M-V product. Product to be consumed by:

Band - visual content customized to accompany recorded music

Juke Box - Visual "filler" generated on the fly

Live Performance


Passive, tied to "click track" or random generator, user interaction limited to "visual thematic control" in MIDI-VIDI VJ

* bars (existing need, presently filled by cable tv, sports, or random channel selection PROFILE: visual background, sync-to music moderately important)

* discos & niteclubs (existing need, presently filled by music videos, live cameras, light grids, graphic "clips" and projections PROFILE: highly animated and dynamic visual wallpaper, graphically oriented, sync-to-music important)

* public spaces

* marketing booths (existing need, filled by slides or video with poor quality audio cassette support PROFILE: dynamic, animated
graphics, text-oriented, audio a major attractor feature, click- track)

* cable tv channel filler (existing need, often unfilled or poorly filled by radio broadcast over visually dull news scroll
PROFILE: visual wallpaper w/ opportunity for attractive advertising, click track)

* consumer hobbyist (speculative)

MIDI-VIDI Pro Synthesizer

"Live" interactive performance product for bands or Dee-Jays

MIDI-VIDI Home Synthesizer

Automated engine for providing "theme-based" wallpaper

MIDI-Vidi weds images and music dynamically.

More than just a passive, beat-box-driven color organ, MIDI-Vidi actually allows you to choose - or create - themes where the audio and video are tied together meaningfully through musical semantics.

Of all the TCS Software products, this was the one that really captured my heart. Thanks forever to early TCS collaborator Bill Porter for partnering on this one. His musical skill and knowledge (mine is nil) truly made it happen.


FaceDancer (1985)

Dynamic, Responsive, Customizable

Identikit #1

Identikit #2

Identikit #3


Manage presentational attributes modularly and dynamically

We initially saw this as an identi-kit tool that was interactive, portable, extensible and virtual, allowing police departments to quickly assemble and distribute systematized suspect identification drawings.

File Merging (Library of Design Patterns)

Dynamic Display Controls (Click it. See it.)

Open-Ended Assembly Process (Change anything at any time)

You can "Mix 'n Match" design attributes

Notice the leisurely pace of the drawing of graphics in this video. It's not intentional. This was the default speed for dynamically presentating graphics on the standard "browser" of that time (circa 1985). Early days, but we made it happen.

Potential Applications: Police Identi-kit, Game, Personalized Design Templates

The FaceDancer concept of consistent semantic tags in a flexible design environment was an extension of TCS Textup. It's the conceptual basis of the StyleSwitcher feature.


Fun & Games

Virtual Worlds

The graphical sophistication and inherent animation of early interactive platforms in the US - lent themselves particularly well to gaming. It was a natural path: Early personal computers (which were often dismissed as "game machines") were accessible and there was already a strong consumer interest in gaming

TCS partner Bill Porter and I were heavily involved in pioneering the interactive online arena. The potential for Massive Multiplayer Online gaming was definitely on our radar early on the curve (1983), even though it would not actually become real until many years later.

"Dragon's Lair", "Minotaur" and "Shadow Warriors" (at right) put sophisticated graphical paint onto the scenario-based, strategic adventure style of RPG interactive game that was popular during the early days of personal computers.

Bill and I also toyed with realtime "first person" shoot'em up type of games, though programming those in within the substantial memory and display limitations of the time was quite a stretch.

Our first venture in that arena was "Bunker" (No images survive, alas). It allowed you to shoot artillery at tanks, which were advancing upon your position. It was simplistic, but challenging: There was a delay between when you aimed & fired and when the shell would land. You needed to anticipate tank speed and path - and the tanks could be tricky.