Research Studio: Tangible Interaction

Thomas Igoe

Tangible interaction is a difficult topic in 2020. In the early months of the year, there were various calls for a move to a “touchless future” in an effort to counter the fear of infection from touching shared things. Even though more recent research suggests that transmission via inanimate objects (fomite transmission) is a low risk, the perceived fear and its effect still persists. Given this environment, what is the future for tangible interaction? This class will investigate that question.

In this studio, students will survey the current state of practice in tangible interaction design, investigate different sensors and haptic controllers, and generate information that can be used by other practitioners. Class work will include:

  • literature review and summary, i.e. getting to know what’s already in the field, collecting and summarizing examples of best practice on a public website
  • practical research and tutorial documentation, i.e. figuring out how to make a given control or interface, then documenting the process for doing it, and/or verifying someone else’s tutorial through duplicating their work.

For those students who are in New York and feel safe using the shop, there will be projects which will require shop work. For those who are remote, or who do not feel safe using the shop, there will be research, design, documentation, and verification work.

Class will be structured as a series of multi-week group projects including research, experimentation, and documentation. Students will work in small teams of 2-3, and teams will meet with the instructor weekly. The full class will meet 4-5 times to introduce the field and the project, and to review the whole project. In between, students will meet with the instructor individually or in groups, during the scheduled class time or office hours.

Examples of related work:

  • The UX of Lego Interface Panels, George Cave
  • Comparing Force-Image Schema dials (video) (paper), Jörn Hurtienne, Diana Löffler, Patty Gadegast, Steffi Hußlein
  • Enclosures, (tutorial) Ben Light
  • Distance Sensors, The Basics (tutorial and comparison), Noah Pivnick
  • Collision Course: an essay on the interface design of the USS John McCain’s navigation system and how it led to the collision with the oil tanker Alnic, T. Christian Miller, Megan Rose, Robert Faturechi and Agnes Chang for ProPublica

Students will gain skills in review and analysis of existing practice, in written and multimedia formats; design research and specification; and electronics and programming techniques related to this field.