Tangible Interactions

This is the accompanying blog for the Tangible Interactions course at the Oslo School of Architecture & Design. The course is driven by the Touch research project.

One-week tasks

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The course has kicked off with four one-week tasks to introduce ubiquitous computing, tangible interaction, mobile services and design methods. Each task has been designed to cover different methods for research and design. They alternate between conceptual and detail levels: from the macro to the micro.


1. The landscape of tangible interaction

This week we will look at the history of design and technology with a focus on ubiquitous and tangible research, products and services. The course literature provides you with a comprehensive overview of some of the history and contemporary practice of interaction design. We expect you to reflect on the general themes contained in this literature.

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2. A simple RFID interface

This week we will build a simple RFID application. We want you to explore three aspects of RFID interactions:

* the form of the tags
* the form of the reader
* the interaction feedback

We want you to explore the possibilities for physical tags in terms of material, shape, colour, weight, etc. and how this relates to a reader and screen-based interface.

The focus of this excersise is to explore the mapping between physical objects, readers and feedback (on screen and with sound). You must avoid designing a complex service and instead work with simple and satisfying experiences with one-to-one mappings. Consider colour, time, sound, weight, iconography, character as starting points for simple relationships.

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3. The conscientious consumer

What kinds of mobile services could be developed to support conscientious behaviour in shopping? RFID and barcodes can easily connect mobile phones with products and shop displays, so how should services be created around this interaction?

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4. Interactions of transactions

This week we want you to re-design the ticketing system for the Oslo sporveien considering the use of RFID cards.

* Study the existing Oslo ticketing systems and interfaces in context. Document the interactions at the buses, trams, T-bane and Oslo S.

* Re-design one of these interfaces to include the use of RFID tickets: how do people buy, top-up, manage, visualise and cancel the various options in the system? What kinds of structure and visual language are required to create satisfying experiences?

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Written by Timo

February 1, 2008 at 1:14 pm

Course reading

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This is a compendium of reading materials that offer multiple perspectives on computing, interaction design, contemporary products and design methodology. It is the core reading for the Tangible interactions course at the Oslo School of Architecture & Design.

Most of the content below is available online, at least in the form of important sample chapters.

History & background

Some selected perspectives on technology from history. Here we see some evidence of the eternal ‘proximate future’ in both the foundation of electricity and of ubiquitous computing. We also question the development and sustainability of contemporary ubiquitous information infrastructures.

Wonders of the Future by Nikola Tesla (full text online)
Tales of tomorrow (from the Acme Novelty Library) by Chris Ware (sample images online)
The computer for the 21st century by Mark Weiser (full text online)
In the Bubble by John Thackara (sample pdf chapter online)

Ubiquitous computing

Contemporary perspectives on ubiquitous computing (ubicomp) as an area of research and development. Here we see critical perspectives of the field from architecture and interaction design, and some observations on the nature of ubiquitous computing in practice.

Digital Ground by Malcolm McCullough (sample pdf chapter online)
Everyware by Adam Greenfield (introduction pdf online).
Yesterday’s tomorrows: Questioning Ubicomp’s dominant vision by Bell & Dourish (pdf online)
Getting out of the City: Meaning and structure in Everyday Encounters with Space by Bell & Dourish (pdf online)

Tangible, social and embodied interaction

A brief history of interaction with computers including the development of the original mouse. An example of the design of tangible interfaces, including the creation of interaction models, and a simple manifesto for curious, playful interfaces.

Where the action is: the foundations of embodied interaction by Paul Dourish (sample pdf chapter online)
Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge (chapter 1 – the mouse and the desktop + video)
Emerging frameworks for tangible user interfaces by Ullmer & Ishii (pdf online)
The Curious Interface: A Design Manifesto in Favor of Play by Jane McGonigal (pdf online)

Products, services and artefacts

Contemporary products are increasingly computational, interactive and social. We start with a strong vision of a sustainable future of things, then we explore how the internet and products are influencing each other including social software, service design and mobile devices.

Shaping things by Bruce Sterling (sample pdf chapters online)
3C products, The life of products and Experience hooks by Matt Webb (weblog posts)
On the Ground Running by Adam Greenfield (weblog post)
Mobile essentials by Jan Chipchase et al (paper and weblog post)
What makes a good social object? and Why some social network services work and others don’t by Jyri Engestrom (weblog posts)


Introducing a wide range of methods for interaction design and interactive products. We look at the role of qualitative research in design processes, developing fictional products, using cultural probes, ‘hackability’ and the ethnographic study of mobile objects.

Design Research by Brenda Laurel (introductions to qualitative and quantitative methods)
The importance of fictional products by Allan Chochinov (article online)
Cultural probes and the value of uncertainty by Bill Gaver et al (pdf online)
Portable Objects in Three Global Cities: The Personalization of Urban Places by Mizuko Ito et al (pdf online)
Design for Hackability by Anne Galloway et al (pdf online)
Don’t design for ‘mobile’ – design for mobility by Adaptive Path (weblog post)
Making Things Talk by Tom Igoe (entire book)

Further reading

In addition to the material above we also include The Invisible Computer, The Design of Everyday Things, RFID Applications, Security, and Privacy and Spychips as important background reading.

See also more RFID books, weblogs and resources at the Touch weblog.


See the list of weblogs and interviews.

Written by Timo

January 21, 2008 at 6:36 pm

Some thoughts on designing tangible interfaces

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Interviews with the makers of the Wii

“When developing a games console, a human-machine interface isn’t just a necessity, it’s an intrinsic part of the whole process. So, a number of years ago I created somewhere between ten and twenty teams, each consisting of around three people. These teams were given free rein to couple a dedicated controller or peripheral with a GameCube title, and then see whether or not the end result was marketable.”

Matt Webb on making things and why innovation is hard

“When we engage directly with the material – whether that’s plastic or code – we test the grain of the object. We see that wooden buttons don’t want to be pressed, and we’ll need a different operating mechanism. When a material thing sits in our sweaty palm, or on our cluttered desk, we test the grain of the world.”

The making of the iPhone

“It may appear that the carriers’ nightmares have been realized, that the iPhone has given all the power to consumers, developers, and manufacturers, while turning wireless networks into dumb pipes. But by fostering more innovation, carriers’ networks could get more valuable, not less. Consumers will spend more time on devices, and thus on networks, racking up bigger bills and generating more revenue for everyone.”

Written by Timo

January 19, 2008 at 6:45 pm

Posted in Links, Reading

Task 2 Simple RFID tools

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You have to download Processing and Arduino and install the drivers in the Arduino folder.

We will send you the Processing code to get you started.

Written by einarsneve

January 18, 2008 at 2:01 pm


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We Make Money Not Art has an ongoing series of interviews that are relevant. Here is a selection:

Anthony Dunne
“There is no need to rush into the future frantically styling up new technology and getting it to market as fast as we can. We need to reflect a bit more and ask some questions. ”

Tom Igoe
“A lot of works that get cited as good physical computing tend to incorporate spectacular or elegant physical output, but for my money, those aren’t the really special ones. The ones that impress me most have really rich input.”

“The killer-app is smart clothing, and the fact mthat it didn’t make it to the high-street yet, is that the tools were not mature. Now we have the tools, technology is very small, and you got CuteCircuit making it look good :)”

Yury Gitman
“I think viewing the source code of html is still one of the coolest things about the internet. So I’m kinda trying to bring the more enlightened aspects of the internet into the art and craft of toy design.”

Adam Greenfield
“If ubiquitous systems, products, and services are developed in the absence of careful, sensitive interaction design they fail. And they fail in a way that poses particular challenges and risks to the user’s sense of calm and equanimity, because by and large the interaction landscape of everyday life is very robust, very well-assimilated.”

Julian Bleecker
“I think this notion of digitizing everything is a bit misguided. It presumes that most everything should be digital, without consideration as to what it means to have particular human experiences or activities transferred into digital form. It’s a kind of digital-era imperialism or evangelization of the database gospel.”

Boutique Vizique
“In fact we consciously endeavor to create installations that are intended to be enjoyed by both young and old. It is obvious that part of our plan is to awake the child in each one of us. And since play, poetry and simplicity are a constant in our work those challenges seem to overlap quite often. ”

Written by Timo

January 15, 2008 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Links, Reading

Relevant weblogs

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Jan Chipchase
Nokia researcher travels around the world documenting the use of objects, devices and spaces

Space and Culture
An international journal & weblog dedicated to social spaces of all kinds

We Make Money Not Art
By Régine Debatty, essentially a magazine on media art, research, products and activism

Pasta and Vinegar
A weblog on contemporary research and products by Nicolas Nova

A weblog accompanying the book of the same title, about mobile communication, pervasive computing, wireless networks, collective action

Ratchet Up
By John Schott looks at contemporary research and products

Pulse Laser
A weblog by Schulze & Webb a creative design consultancy in London.

Make Blog
‘Void your warranty, violate a user agreement, fry a circuit, blow a fuse, poke an eye out… Welcome to the Make Blog!’

Mobile opportunity
‘The walls between the web, wireless, entertainment, and computer industries are coming down. This weblog explores the opportunities that result.’

Vodafone Receiver
An online magazine for mobility, technology and culture with a diverse group of writers

Written by Timo

January 15, 2008 at 2:42 pm

Posted in Links, Reading

Tangible interactions 2008

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RFID tags 1

Welcome to the Tangible Interactions course weblog.

Written by Timo

January 15, 2008 at 2:15 pm

Posted in About the course