Ubicomp Spring School in Nottingham – prototyping user interfaces

On Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon I ran practical workshops on creating novel user interfaces complementing the tutorial on Wednesday morning. The aim of the practical was to motivate people to more fundamentally question user interface decisions that we make in our research projects.

On a very simple level an input user interface can be seen as a sensor, a transfer function or mapping, and an action in the system that is controlled. To motivate that this I showed two simple javascript programs that allowed to play with the mapping of the mouse to a movement of a button on the screen and with moving through a set of images. If you twist the mapping functions really simple tasks (like moving one button on top of the other) may get complicated. Similarly if you change the way you use the sensor (e.g. instead of moving the mouse on a surface, having several people moving a surface over the mouse) such simple tasks may become really difficult, too.

With this initial experience, a optical mouse, a lot of materials (e.g. fabrics, cardboard boxes, picture frames, toys, etc.), some tools, and 2 hours of time the groups started to create their novel interactive experience. The results created included a string puppet interface, a frog interface, a interface to the (computer) recycling, a scarf, and a close contact dancing interface (the music only plays if bodies touch and move).

The final demos of the workshop were shown before dinner. Seeing the whole set of the new interface ideas one wonders why there is so little of this happening beyond the labs in the real world and why people are happy to live with current efficient but rather boring user interfaces – especially in the home context…