PCOM / Week 1 / What makes for good physical interaction?

My first project for Physical Computing class was to create a Fantasy Device and my group came up with a device meant to communicate different languages instantly. Whether you are studying abroad and English is your second language, wanting to understand what is said in a classroom without any delays or traveling to a foreign country and immersing yourself in a culture without being lost in translation. We intended to create an earpiece that can take in the words and sounds, then process the information quickly to output in a device near the mouth that can say the words in the language specified.

If interaction is a conversation of listening, thinking and speaking (imputing, processing and outputting), differences in languages or being out of your comfort zone can slow down interaction. With the help of devices for digital interaction, it can help fill in those gaps of slow listening, slow thinking and slow speaking for faster processing time or other platforms to converse remotely if face to face conversations scares you and it helps to participate in your comfort zone.

But when I watched the ‘Vision of the Future’ video in Bret Victor’s rant on the Future of Interaction Design, my immediate thought was that the future was so well designed with clean, translucent interfaces to help organize travel, work, design, collaboration, family, time management, donating with a click of a button, learning and making decisions in seamless ways—how wonderful! Then I started thinking about how we kind of have the foundations behind all this already. Real life looks and is more chaotic and we have numerous apps spread out and so many different companies wanting us to log all of our information into their sites to help us ‘manage’ our lives. Reading Bret Victor’s viewpoint on ‘the future’ made me realize that we’ve forgotten the tactile quality of things because swiping our fingers and hands on our phones and Ipads have become the norm. We’ve forgotten about some of our five human senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.

I recently visited the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum to take my 2-year old son to the Pixar exhibit and I was pretty impressed with the hands-on exhibits and wands that could be used to scan barcodes next to the art pieces that you liked and want to revisit. Although the wands are similar to the swiping of our finger on the glass interfaces, it responds back to you in a way that it can help store the overwhelming amount of images that you see and allows you to collect and save images of the art that caught your eye for after you leave the museum. The wands are also used as stylus on the huge interactive tables to engage more with the digitized art pieces. These physical interactions with the exhibit made it easy for a 2-year old to participate in and hold his attention.


Physical interaction is and should be a conversation that engages one another with any or all of our 5 senses to delight and enhance our dialogue with one another.


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