More on Twenty First Century User Interface Design

This month’s IEEE Computer magazine has several articles on the theme “Twenty First Century User Interfaces”

As the issue editors Antti Oulasvirta and Gregory D. Abowd say,

Consider some of the most heralded visions of computing, such as wearables, robots, machine intelli- gence, or the Internet of Things. Realizing them relies on solving design problems touching some very hard sociotechnical issues.” ([1] p.12 )

These designers want to “ask what 21st-century UI-design principles, tools, and methods should look like.

(By the  way, I always pay attention to Sensei Abowd.)

My favorite article is  Sugiura,  Igarashi, and  Inami on “Cuddly User Interfaces” [2] “which employ soft objects that are already familiar to users—for example, pillows, carpets, and stu ed toys.” (p. 14) Yes! I’ve wanted Teddy Bear interfaces for as long as I can remember, and I’m still waiting.

Inami’s lab is one of the premier “soft interfaces” groups in  the world, so I pay attention to all of their work.  It is astonishing!

As they note, people interact with hard and soft objects differently. “Hard objects are grasped by the user’s hand and manipulated explicitly as tools for short periods of time. Soft objects come close to the body, interact with the whole body, and are often kept in contact with humans for long periods of time.” ([2], p. 15)

The idea is to augment everyday (soft) objects, and to use natural forms of interaction as IO for digital systems. This requires entirely different design principles compared to hard, touch screen, GUIs.

Their innovations include non invasive measurement of the expansion of stretchy cloth, and in a pillow (“FuwaFuwa”). These techniques can make input devices. For example, with the augmented pillow “squeezing, hitting, pushing, and rubbing trigger different actions. “ p. 17, which can be used to control something like an entertainment system.

They also design soft displays, such as “Graffiti Fur”, a carpet (or curtains or clothing or teddy bears) that can display information.


(Actually, I have said this before.)

This is what I want to see more of when I complain about “Inappropriate Touch Screen Interfaces”.

Of course, being “cuddly” isn’t a guarantee of a good interface (e.g., [3]), you still have to a good app and a well designed interaction.

  1. Antti Oulasvirta and Gregory D. Abowd, User Interface Design in the 21st Century. Computer, 49 (7):11-13, 2016.
  2. Yula Sugiura, Takeo Igarashi, and Masahiko Inami, Cuddly User Interfaces. Computer, 49 (7):14-19, 2016.
  3. Vanden Abeele, Vero, Bieke Zaman, and Mariek Vanden Abeele, The Unlikeability of a Cuddly Toy Interface: An Experimental Study of Preschoolers’ Likeability and Usability of a 3D Game Played with a Cuddly Toy Versus a Keyboard, in Fun and Games: Second International Conference, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, October 20-21, 2008. Proceedings, P. Markopoulos, et al., Editors. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, Berlin, Heidelberg, 2008, 118-131.


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