Tangible Instant Messaging

Brief description

Instant Messaging is a popular means of communication on the internet. Programs like MSN Messenger and ICQ are widely used to exchange text messages within a community of ‘buddies’.

The interaction with these programs is through a Graphical User Interface (GUI) augmented with simple sounds to indicate incoming messages. The two main areas of interaction are the dialog window, in which the exchange of messages takes place, and the status window. The status window informs the user about several things. It indicates the status of others, e.g., which of his buddies is online, who is sending a message, if buddies are available or busy, etc. The user can also set his own status through this window, e.g., away, occupied, busy, ‘be right back’. Through pull-down menus in this window you can also contact buddies and send them messages or emails.

As a reaction to the dominance of GUI’s in human computer interaction (HCI) alternative interaction styles are explored. One of these alternatives is tangible interaction which stresses the importance of the physicality of the interaction. In this approach the physical controls for (digital) input are integrated with the physical representation of (digital) output.


In this project the team will design an alternative to the GUI-approach of Instant Messaging, using a physical object which reacts in different ways to the digital signals. Sensing these physical actions through the fingers and matched to the visual functionality of the status window. In this way, the interaction between the screen and the physical objects provide a more ‘tangible’ interaction to emphasize the messaging experience.

The design process should involve the following steps:
1. Define the functional requirements within the current status window.
2. Come up with tangible alternatives for these functionalities. Use different creativity techniques like ‘Interaction Relabelling’, ‘Tinkering’ and ‘Design Moves’.
3. Integrate the tangible alternatives into several concepts
4. Realize the best concept (both in hardware and software) – Make a good working physical model and GUI screen interface.
5. A preliminary user study to investigate the effects of the tangible extension against the basic GUI.


Report, demonstrator/working prototype.

Information sources

SOFIA – Smart Objects For Intelligent Applications

For this project there is the opportunity to work in the context of a European project called SOFIA. The overall goal of this project is to connect the physical world with the information world by enabling and maintaining interoperability between electronic systems and devices. The ID department is involved in the project, contributing by developing smart applications for the smart home environment and developing novel ways of user interaction. In the project there is the possibility to work with two PhD candidates working on the project and with an external client, which has expertise in the field of multimodal interaction and has developed several interaction devices.



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