What is physical interaction?

After reading” Crawford, The Art of Interactive Design, Chapter1&2″ and “Bret Victor, A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design “, it is my first time seriously think about what is interaction, and the definition of good interactive design projects.

According to Crawford, interaction could be defined as “a cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak”. He illustrated the cyclic process by giving the examples of communication between people at first, and then he talks about the degrees of interactivity to measure the interactivity, which could be high, moderate, low and zero. The complete interactivity require all three part of “listening, thinking, and speaking”. Good interactivity need all three parts work well and work with each other. Thus, to be a good interactive designer, he or she should address the entire interaction between user and computer: Listen to user’s intention, think about it, calculate, and make corresponding respond. At last, Crawford says interaction could be defined in many ways. So I am trying to make a definition myself according to the reading material as well as my own opinions.

Physical Interaction:

A cyclic and continuous process in which participants (both people and machine) alternatively “listen, think and speak “, which involve physical communications in the whole process. The physical interaction could both be explicit and implicit. For the explicit interaction, while users are detected, the computer system starts to run by analyzing user’s intention . Meanwhile, computer system give out the real-time interaction responding to users’ activities that satisfy user need or incentive users’ next movement. For the implicit interaction, while users’ activity matches computer’s trigger point, the responsive interactivity made by computer starts to run, to achieve users’ expectation or surprise them, thus to incentive users’ continuous respond.

What makes for good physical interaction :

1. Good Physical interaction should be human-centered, user-based as well as persona-targeted. According to the book, the Nintendo refrigerator offers adults some intellectual utility, but could offer an interactive door game for children. For different users, the level of interactivity could be different. For adults, the refrigerator does almost zero level of interaction. But for children, the refrigerator does much more higher level of interaction. This is what we are talking about, the targeted users. A physical interaction project do not need to satisfy or surprise all users, if the developer created a project that could meet the requirements of the target users’ ideal model, then the product could be defined as a good physical interaction.

2. To be intuitive, easy to use and short learning curve! People do not need to learn how to interact with the projects or the learning curve appears to be shorter than users’ expectation.

3. Through down to the last detail but as little design as possible.

4. You think it is good! As everyone has a hamlet, some interactive projects may judged by a lot of people but suit your tastes, you can define it as a good physical interaction project.

Physical interaction in the future :

After I read “Bret Victor, A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design “, I feel very excited :D!!!!!!   Two years ago, I formed a team with two friends and created a project named “Get & Put”. It is cloud-powered magic that makes humans the couriers of virtual data. With the Get & Put app installed and online, users can grab pictures, music, or drawings from the screen, carry them by hand, and put them into other devices without carrying any equipment. http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XODYzNzg3NDY0.html Get & Put makes users feel like that they are carrying data in hands, but the real story behind is that when the user “grabs” something, it travels into Cloud, and Cloud orientates it to the device the user wants to put data in.Get&Put is achieved by the combination of three powers, biometric recognition, wireless network and azure. However, due to the limitation of human face recognition technique, the project could not survive in all scenarios. But I believe in the future, Get & Put will appear in classrooms to promotes intimate interaction and feedbacks between children and teachers, encourages elder people to enjoy sharing photos and music with other family members at home and maybe it can brings a new style of adverts access and cultural diffusion for commercial use. Ok, I will stop wagging :D!


Talking about physical interaction in the future, I would like to imagine that the future interactivity will break the wall between the physical world and the virtual world, and the interactive projects would cross the boundary of people, art, design and technology. People could use instinctive activities to reach, feel, and touch to the virtual world. Thus, even the very young children and the older people could also enjoy the new era of data and information!


1 Response

  1. Here are a couple of questions your post raises for me:

    In your definition of physical interaction, can you think of a few examples of what you mean by ” physical communications”?

    Does interaction have to happen in real time in order to be physical? Can you think of examples of physical interaction which meet your definition but are not real time? Is your “get & put” an example?

    How do you define “intuitive”?

    I know several industrial designers have used variations on the phrase “as little design as possible.” Which of them are you referring to (if any), and what does it mean to you?

    Your point 4 is important, and I agree: the best person to define whether an interaction is good is the person for whom it is designed. Who do you most want to design for?

    “in the future” is a popular way for designers and engineers to dismiss the limitations of the systems they design. How far in the future are you imagining when you say that? If you had to solve the problem tomorrow, and couldn’t say “in the future”, how would you solve it? What steps do you think lie between your immediate solution and the ideal future you have in mind?

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