Beyond the Desktop: Networking the Everyday

A tangible user interface (TUI) is a type of user interface that uses physical form and physical attributes as a way to help people understand how to access, grasp and manipulate intangible digital information. Tangible interfaces provide physical handles to digital information by building on people’s intuitive understanding and expectations of how physical objects operate in the real world.

Tangible interfaces and tangible computing can be traced back to an earlier vision of “ubiquitous computing” (1) first proposed by Mark Weiser at Xerox PARC in the late ‘80’s. Weiser predicted that
computing would go beyond the desktop paradigm and begin to permeate our everyday environment. As microprocessors continued to get smaller and more powerful and networks became more prevalent, it would provide new opportunities for computing to become part of our everyday physical environment. Computing would no longer be confined to a virtual desktop – accessed via a keyboard and a mouse – but would be embedded everywhere and in everything.

Some years later Professor Hiroshi Ishii from the MIT Media Lab setup the research program “Tangible Bits”. Here Ishii proposed “people have developed sophisticated skills for sensing and manipulating our physical environments. However, most of these skills are not employed by traditional GUI (Graphical User Interface). Tangible Bits seeks to build upon these skills by giving physical form to digital information, seamlessly coupling the dual worlds of bits and atoms.” (2)

Following on from these earlier visions, tangible computing continues to build on the physical skills that we use in our interaction with the real world. As part of this course we will continue to investigate new ways to help users access and manipulate digital information in more immediate and easily understandable ways through the use of physical form and physical attributes.

(1) http://sandbox.xerox.com/hypertext/weiser/UbiHome.html
(2) http://tangible.media.mit.edu/projects/

Reading List:

Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing, Adam Greenfield
Where The Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction, Paul Dourish
Shaping Things, Bruce Sterling