Peter Dalsgaard

Interaction design researcher at Aarhus University

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Category: Interaction design (page 1 of 4)

A few interesting reads for the weekend (February 20)

We Are Hopelessly Hooked
A review and discussion of four new books, which all tackle the distractions and addictions of digital technologies. Some of the best designers in the world are working on getting us ever more addicted to their particular products:

“Tech companies are engaged in “a race to the bottom of the brain stem,” in which rewards go not to those that help us spend our time wisely, but to those that keep us mindlessly pulling the lever at the casino.“

I see the effects in my students and myself, but in spite of this I often find that I’m dragged into it. One design challenge that I’ve posed to a few students in the past, and which I’ll revive alongside readings from this article will be to design a deliberately slow and reflective social network.

Microsoft’s Radical Bet On A New Type Of Design Thinking
On designing for underserved groups of people (aka inclusive or universal design), and how it could potentially deliver better products for all of us. The title might be a tad off (is it design thinking? if so, it is in a very broad sense of the word), but it is interesting to see how this mindset might affect a huge entity like Microsoft.

There is no such thing as a normal human, our capabilities are always changing. The hope is that in seeking out new people to include in the design process, we can smooth away the gaps that bedevil our digital lives.

Building a Bridge Between Engineering and the Humanities
A proposal for new models of education, research, and practice, in which the lines between STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) are deliberately blurred with those of the humanities:

Boosting enrollments in STEM is not enough. An educational system that merges humanities and sciences, creating whole-brain engineers and scientifically inspired humanists, fosters more than just innovation. It yields more-flexible individuals who adapt to unanticipated changes as the world evolves unpredictably.

photo_75344_portrait_325x488While the piece is written in a North American context, this line of thinking is equally relevant in the Scandinavian context in which I work. I see way too many trenches being dug between the disciplines at the moment, rather than bridges built, in the public discourse. As frustrating as this is, I am equally thrilled to see many of the things that actually unfold in practice, both at the university and beyond, to move past these divisions and explore how new blends of mindsets, skillsets, and toolsets can help us better understand and shape the world.

3D projection on moving objects

Box by Bot & Dolly is the most impressive and immersive example of 3D projection (aka  projection mapping) I have yet come across. Whereas nearly all previous examples of 3D projection have employed projection onto static objects, Box  showcases what you can do with a combination of 3D projection and movable objects.

We’ve been working on similar projects, albeit on a smaller scale and mainly driven by research interests, for a couple of years (see the above video for some of the tests we did four years ago in collaboration with Kollision and BIG), and to me this type of technology holds a lot of potential, so I’m very excited to see it becoming more mainstream as professional interaction designers start working with it. One of the tricky aspects of doing 3D projection onto moving objects is that it requires very precise calibration. If the calibration of the projectors is just a bit off, pixels will spill over and the illusion will break down. As long as you’re projecting onto a static object, you’re more or less home safe once the projectors are calibrated, but when you project onto a moving object, you need to find a way of tracking this object with a high degree of precision. Box circumvents this problem by using pre-programmed robots to move the displays.

In our most recent work, we’ve developed so-called Tangible 3D Tabletops, which combine interactive tabletops with 3D projection onto tangible, movable objects. One of the demonstrators is the Tangible Urban Planning demo above. Although there are still a number of interesting research questions to address (for instance how we can track and project onto objects that people pick up and carry around a room, how we can integrate it with other types of interfaces, and how we can project onto shape-changing objects,  I’m fairly sure that projects such as Box can help pave the way for a wider uptake of 3D projection.

Dissertation on Performance and Materiality in Interaction Design

Via Experientia I came across Elizabeth Sarah Goodman’s PhD dissertation Delivering Design: Performance and Materiality in Professional Interaction Design. Goodman sets out to examine the question of how interaction design “demonstrates a special form of human thought”; a theme that resonates with the ongoing dicourse on design thinking as a special paradigm of knowledge. What really piqued my interest is that she approaches this question through the lens of performativity and practice, rather than the cognitive approach, which is still predominant in studies of design and creativity. From the abstract:

“This dissertation argues that performance practices organize interaction design work. By “performance practices,” I mean episodes of storytell- ing and narrative that take place before an audience of witnesses. These performances instantiate — make visible and tangibly felt — the human and machine behaviors that the static deliverables seem unable on their own to materialize. In doing so, performances of the project help produce and sustain alignment within teams and among designers, clients, and developers.
In this way, a focus on episodes of performance turns our concerns from cognition, in which artifacts assist design thinking, to one of enactment, in which documents, spaces, tools, and bodies actively participating in producing the identities, responsibilities, and capacities of project con- stituents. It turns our attention to questions of political representation, materiality and politics. From this perspective, it is not necessarily how designers think but how they stage and orchestrate performances of the project that makes accountable, authoritative decision-making on behalf of clients and prospective users possible.” (p 1)

Rather than answering the ones we’re already struggling with, this change of perspective leads us to consider new questions when studying design:

“a focus on episodes of performance turns the concerns of study from cognition, in which artifacts represent what individual designers are thinking, to one of practice, which sees documents, spaces, tools, and bodies as actively participating in producing and removing responsibilities, capacities, and agency.” (p 208)

Thoughts on Media Architecture Biennale 2012


The past three days I have been fully immersed in encounters with media architecture and discussions with the best thinkers and doers in the field at the Media Architecture Biennale 2012. Personally, I love small but very focused event like this; the established stars of the field mingle with up-and-coming researchers and practitioners, and everybody is driven by a burning passion and curiosity. As one of the organizers of the Biennale, I am indebted to all who helped make it happen and grateful for the diverse insights offered, both during invited talks and academic presentations and in all of the in-between discussions and exchanges that are an equally important part of an event like this. Quite a bit has been written and tweeted about the event in our community over the past couple of days (here are the storyfied versions of day 1, day 2 and day 3), and I won’t try to offer a comprehensive summary of the event. Rather, I’ll offer eight considerations that I take with me from the Biennale as a synthesis of all of this input, and which I hope to delve more into in my future work:

1 – Participation (the theme of this year’s Biennale) is indeed a key issue for media architecture, both with regards to the design process and the use situation, and there are many open oportunities and challenges for us to address.

2 – The task of developing methods and approaches for involving people is difficult in the fields of interaction design and architecture, respectively. When you merge the two, the difficulties are even greater – as a researcher, this is fabulous news!

3 – Media architecture can enable us to both read and write the space, and perhaps even alter the script of a space; a big question is how we can make people aware of these opportunities and support them in meaningful ways.

4 – One of our key objectives as thoughtful researchers and designers of media architecture will be to build and explore meaningful alternatives to full-blown money architecture (e.g. advertisement), among other things by informing and involving citizens, public institutions and civic servants of the places we design in, for and with.

5 – Working on a neighbourhood level (in between personal and urban scale) could be a very fruitful way of moving forward and exploring the intersections between interfaces, spatial surroundings and social sensibilities.

6 – There is a massive potential in exploring different modalities and poetics in media architecture than the visual spectacle, and at the Biennale many of the reseach papers as well as keynote presentations point towards ways of doing so.

7 – The notion of architecture as a composition of shearing layers of change (à la Frank Duffy and Stewart Brand) definitely also applies to media architecture; the components of architecture have different life spans and respond to needs, rhythms and situations that change at different speeds, and we have to consider what this means when we develop media architecture.

8 – The support from the municipality, companies and public institutions, combined with the cross-disciplinary academic resources in the area, suggests that Aarhus can be be a great living lab for interactive urban experiments, a Large Media Architecture Collider, in the years leading up to the next Media Architecture Biennale (2014) and the European Capital of Culture 2017, both set in Aarhus.

Spine, an installation created for the Biennale by Kollision, CAVI, Mads Wahlberg and Henrik Munch

Media Architecture Biennale 2012

Media architecture transforms cities, buildings, and people. This week, you can join the world’s top experts in discussing and outlining the media architecture of the future at the Media Architecture Biennale 2012. The biennale takes place on 15-17 November 2012 here in Aarhus, Denmark and brings together architects, academia, and industry from around the globe.

Among the speakers are media artists Ben Rubin, architect and designer Jason Bruges, Bjarke Ingels Group, Gehl Architects, professor of architecture Antonio Saggio, professor of media archaeology Erkki Huhtamo – and many, many more.

The biennale also features an academic conference track (chaired by your’s truly and Ava Fatah from The Bartlett), an exhibition, awards, industry sessions, workshops, an iPad compendium, and a gala dinner.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay updated with the latest news about the event.

Tangible 3D Tabletops

Today I’m giving a paper presentation at Nordichi about a new type of interface, Tangible 3D Tabletops, that Kim Halskov and I have developed over the past year. As is implied by the name, the interface combines elements of tangible tabletops (e.g. Reactable) and 3D projection onto physical objects. This allows us to augment tangible objects with visual material corresponding to their physical shapes, positions, and orientation on a tabletop. In practice, this means that both the tabletop and the tangibles can serve as displays. In the paper, we present the basic design principles for this interface, particularly concerning the interplay between 2D on the tabletop and 3D for the tangibles, and present examples of how this kind of interface might be used in the domain of maps and geolocalized data. We then discuss three central design considerations concerning 1) the combination and connection of content and functions of the tangibles and tabletop surface, 2) the use of tangibles as dynamic displays and input devices, and 3) the visual effects facilitated by the combination of the 2D tabletop surface and the 3D tangibles.

The slides from my talk are embedded below, and a video is coming up as soon as the IT University of Copenhagen get their wifi up and running.

Dalsgaard, P., Halskov, K. (2012): Tangible 3D Tabletops: “Combining Tangible Tabletop Interaction and 3D Projection”. In Proceedings of NordiCHI 2012, Copenhagen, Danmark.

Pragmatism, constraints and design creativity

Currently in Glasgow for the International Conference on Design Creativity, at which Michael Biskjaer and I have just given a talk about our paper Toward A Constraint-Oriented Pragmatist Understanding Of Design Creativity (PDF). The paper explores the potentials of pragmatist philosophy to enrich the discourse on design creativity in general and the concept of constraints specifically. We argue that pragmatism can inspire and inform the study of constraints in design creativity by offering a coherent and well-developed frame of understanding how designerly inquiry unfolds as a complex interplay between the designer and the resources at hand in the situation, which may continuously alternate between constraining and enabling roles, or even take on both roles simultaneously.

The slides from our talk are embedded below:

Talk: Tools for prototyping hybrid interactions

An upcoming talk for all of those in the neighbourhood who share an interest in spatial interaction design: Next week, Alexander Wiethoff from University of Munich gives a talk on tools for prototyping hybrid interactions here in Aarhus:

“New forms of interfaces that facilitates interactions of tangible og intangible nature also demand new prototyping methods. But formal design processes, such as are available for screen-based interactions, have yet to be elaborated in this realm. An approach that is accommodating low and high fidelity prototyping methods can help designers facing domain-specific challenges in a quite large design and opportunity space.”

One of the outcomes of this work is the Sketch-a-TUI, a toolkit for sketching tangible user interfaces on capacitive screens using physical objects of almost any material as user interfaces.

Time and place: August 30, 14:15 — 15:30, the Peter Bøgh Andersen auditorium, the Nygaard Building, Aarhus University.

Inspiring reads, July 15th through July 21st

Creative Kinect hacking – By reducing the technical entry point, the Kinect has levelled the playing field and allowed a lot more creative experiments to surface

New Design Practices for Touch-free Interactions – Touch-free gestures and Natural Language Interaction (NLI) are bleeding into the computing mainstream

7 Killer User Interface Designs For Gestures – Pull, unfold, rotate, push, slide, pinch

zSpaceHolographic Display – Tracking points embedded in the glasses frames to follow the orientation of your face to the screen

17 Great Wireframing Tools for Web Designers

The 15 best tools for data visualisation

Inspiring reads, July 5th through July 14th

The Individual in a Networked World – Two Scenarios that outline potential evolution from current trajectories

Coursera – How an education startup may profit from free courses

AcademiPad – Using iPad, Mac and the web in research, teaching and learning.