Thursday, 14 October 2010

Do tangible user interface make sense? Yes they are a great design tool.

The question "Do tangible user interface make sense?" is a question that probably everyone who seriously works in this field has asked themselves once in a while.

Seeing the iPhone and iPod app of the people doing the reactable made me think about this question again! What is really - in the use case of the reactbale the value of the physical over the touch screen? Or is it just sentimental and old school to believe in the physical? Not sure … needs probably some more thinking and research ;-)

One other points which this example underlines is that tangible interaction is a great design tool (still in the process of writing a paper about this - but here the basic idea for discussion). And I strongly believe that this is a great value for user interface design in general. I suggest the following approach:
  1. Analyze your task
  2. Find data elements that can be made tangible
  3. Find operators/manipulators on the data elements that can be made tangible
  4. Create a tangible user interface to realize all the interaction required
  5. Port it to a touch screen or conventional user interface
The steps 1-4 will ensure simplicity and in step 5 you may lose some of the "ah" and "wow" but it is very likely that you have created a usable and simple interface!

4 comments:

Chris Kray said...

That's something I've been wondering about as well (you know why) but I guess you could also say that interfaces based on touch-sensitive surfaces only are a (poorish but best-we-can do at the moment) approximation of the actual fully tangible, three-dimensional interface. You can't wrap your fingers around a button or dial on a touch-surface, after all, and you don't really get much tactile feedback from a touchscreen (yet). Not to mention the eyes-free kind of interaction...

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