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Theory and Practice of Tangible User Interfaces

Welcome to Tangible User Interfaces

INFO290-4 / CNM290-01

A considerable amount of research has been done in the domain of Tangible User Interfaces, a new approach to HCI which focuses on the physical interaction with computational media. However, it has been difficult to define what tangible user interfaces are, and come to a systematic understanding of possible approaches in designing and evaluating tangible user interfaces. This course will explore the theoretical framework of tangible user interfaces through a series of design examples to compare and contrast. Students will also design and develop experimental tangible user interfaces using physical computing prototyping tools. The class meets 3 hours per week, 10:30am - 12:00 noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Tuesdays, there will be lectures and discussions based on our readings. On Thursdays, we will do hands-on physical computing exercises with Arduino prototyping boards and various sensors and actuators. There are no prerequisites for the class. While no experience working with electronics is required, basic knowledge in and willingness to learn programming is assumed.

Meeting Time and Place

Tuesday & Thursday 10:30am-12:00pm 110 South Hall

Office Hours

  • Kimiko: Tuesdays 1-2pm at South Hall 314, Thursdays 3:30-4:30 at South Hall 110, and by appointment.
  • Patrick: Wednesdays 1-2pm at Stanley Hall B144, and by appointment.
  • Reza: by appointment
  • Liz: by appointment

Lab equipment will be available for use during office hours.


* Kimiko Ryokai (kimiko [at]
* Elizabeth Goodman "Design Research Guru" (egoodman [at]
* Patrick Goodwill "Tech and Fab Guru" (goodwill[at]
* Reza Naima "Super Tech Guy" (reza[at]


Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers by Tom Igoe and Dan O'Sullivan (2004). The book is available at the campus book store or online at Amazon.

Course Lab Kit

The Thursday curriculum, lab assignments, and homework are based on individual hands-on exercises with Arduino boards and electronic components. Therefore, it is necessary for each individual student to have his/her own lab kit. The lab kit will be available for purchase in class for $75.00. For a list of the components in the lab kit, click here.

Useful Links

* Course syllabus, including all posted assignments and schedule
* Readings for the course
* Arduino website

Prototyping supplies, a link to the prototyping supplies page on the BiD website


The course will consist of five graded components, as described below:

Lab (25%)

In-class lab projects (Thursdays) will be graded based on completion and the amount of effort put in. We will provide both "beginner" and "advanced" options, and students are expected to strive for growth in their skill sets during the semester.

Homework (25%)

Homework assignments will build on the lab projects. Students are expected to post descriptions, images, and source code of their assignments on the course website.

Midterm Project (10%)

Design a Tangible User Interface that takes advantage of your hands to manipulate digital information. Apply it to a topic of your research interest (e.g., tool for communication, learning/education, design, etc.). Your project may be based on a completely new design or redesign of familiar everyday objects.

Midterm project process and schedule:


  • 9/23 Form a group (maximum of 3 members) for your project and write a 1-page proposal and post it on the course website.
  • 10/7 Progress sketches due (post your sketches on the course website).
  • 10/14 In-class midterm project presentation. Present your slides and optional mockups.


Final Project (30%)

Final project entails two parts:

An interactive prototype to be exhibited at the final course exhibition on Dec 9th and 11th, 2008. Your prototype is to demonstrate your original idea for a Tangible User Interface that takes advantage of your hands to manipulate digital information, and

A write-up due Dec 15, 2008 in the ACM SIGCHI Extended Abstract format:

Reflect on your midterm project. You may expand your midterm project, or take a new approach to a Tangible User Interface. You may continue to work as a group (maximum of 3 members) or as an individual. If you work in a group, be clear about each member’s role in the project.


  • 10/30 Finalize your group for project and post your proposal on the course website. Create a list of materials you need. (We may be able to help.)
  • 11/15 & 11/20 In-class final project progress report and critique
  • 12/9 and 12/11 Final project exhibition. Present your prototype. Be prepared to discuss your design principles and design process.
  • 12/15 Final write up due.


The final project will involve the ideation and implementation of a novel tangible user interface. It may be a continuation of the midterm project or based on a new idea. The focus on the project will be on the originality and quality of the idea more than on the extent of the implementation (although both are of course important). Project output will be the interface prototype itself (and an optional poster or handouts), which will be presented at an open house at the end of the semester. Additionally, students will be expected to write a short report on the project, including preliminary evaluation of their interface or an outline of what types of evaluation might be conducted in the future.

Participation (10%)

Students are expected to come to class, engage in discussion, and put contribute to lab sessions.