visionplus7, international conference on information design October 7-9 1999, Tama Art University Tokyo, Japan


Tangible Interaction Design

Bill Verplank <>

Interval Research, Palo Alto, USA


As computers move off the desktop into the world, Information Design and Interaction Design will move off the screen into tangible objects and surfaces. When instrumented, tagged and tracked, all the things we touch are potential interfaces. In contrast, the interfaces of the future might be intangible and invisible. Which do you prefer?

In 1993 we started research on tangible interaction design at Interval Research. Instrumented tiles on a sorting-board were used for three experiments: video annotating [Cohen, '99], audio mixing [Singer '99] and game programming.

The advantages are multi-person, muliti-point interaction but there are problems with focus and feedback: where do you look for the effect of your action?

A multi-object tracking system is now ready for the toy market from a spin-off of Interval: Ellie's Garden from Zowie Intertainment. [Shwe '99]







Several papers on early ideas:

[ACM]. Communications of the ACM. "Computer Augmented Environments: Back to the Real World". July 1993 Vol. 36, Number 7.

Durrell Bishop's marble answering machine:

Crampton Smith, G. "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle". I.D., May/June 1995, pp. 60-65.

A nice taxonomy of technical possibilities:

Fitzmaurice, G., et al. "Bricks: Laying the Foundations for Graspable User Interfaces," Proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '95), ACM, Denver, May 1995, pp. 442-449

Research at MIT Media Lab:

Ishii, H., and Ullmer, B. "Tangible Bits: Towards Seamless Interfaces between People, Bits, and Atoms". Proc. of CHI’97, pp. 234-241, ACM 1997.

Ullmer, B., et al., "mediaBlocks: Physical Containers, Transports, and Controls for Online Media", in Proceedings of SIGGRAPH ’98, (Orlando, Florida USA, July 1998), ACM Press, pp. 379-386.

Gershenfeld, N., When Things Start to Think, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1999.

Interval Research:

Cohen, "Logjam: a Tangible Multi-Person Interface for Video Logging" Proceedings of the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Pittsburgh, 1999.

Singer, et. al. "Tangible Progress: Less Is More In Somewire Audio Spaces," Proceedings of the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Pittsburgh, 1999.

Interval spin-out:

Shwe, H., Francetic, A., "Smarter Play for Smart Toys: The Benefits of Technology-Enhanced Play" A Zowie Intertainment White Paper, 1999.