Course Description

Have you noticed that we don’t need to “touch” anything while using bathrooms in our new home at 370 Jay Street? The toilets, faucets, dryers, even paper towel dispensers, all have sensors that allow them to detect when they are needed. Have you seen interfaces that allow people to type with different body postures? How about musical instruments that you can play by waving your hands in the air?

This course will focus on researching and designing intangible interactions. Intangible interactions are those that we engage in without involving direct physical contact. Intangible interfaces don’t have a tangible form that explicitly instructs us how to interact with them, instead, these interactions utilize other forms of feedback than those we feel through touch. While technologies used for intangible interaction–such as computer vision and sensors are now more available and accessible, knowledge around the design and implementation of effective intangible interactions is a much less documented subject.

We will explore practical, artistic, and whimsical applications of intangible interactions and look at the ways it can enhance human-computer interactions in our everyday lives. For example, it can allow new ways to interact with educational exhibits, artifacts, and artworks. We will explore intangibility as a poetic medium that can open up possibilities for creating work that challenges human senses and perception. We will also question and discuss what it means for an intangible interaction to be “intuitive” and what are the cultural and social implications that we need to consider in designing these.

Technical topics that will be discussed in the class include: non touch-based sensors including optical sensors and environment sensors; proximity sensing; optimizing sensor readings on Arduino; extending capability of sensors with light pipes; object tracking with camera and depth-sensing cameras
; radios and signals; and intangible feedback.


Students will:

  • Understand the concept of intangible interaction.
  • Get familiar with design considerations and design process for intangible interaction.
  • Be exposed to both practical and artistic applications of intangible interaction.
  • Learn technical topics to implement intangible interactive systems.
  • Create individual or team projects that involve intangible interaction.


The class was designed and is taught at NYU Tisch’s ITP in Spring 2020 by Yeseul Song. If you have any questions or thoughts about this course, please email me.


Many thanks to Tom Igoe for valuable feedback, insights, and resources that helped me designing and teaching this course. I would like to thank Dan O’Sullivan, Nancy Hechinger, Danny Rozin, Dan Shiffman, and Zach Lieberman for being inspirations to the creation of this course and my teaching. Thanks to ITP, my friends who offered feedback on the syllabus, and my students taking this course and shaping “Intangible Interaction” with me.