The Role of the Body

Posted on March 9, 2012 by Patrick under Final Project

Today we (Eimear, Rody and myself) presented our seminar on the role of the body in interaction design. Our aim was to show that by directly engaging the body you build a rich and varied language of interaction. During our talk, we discussed three possible ways this engagement could take place; wearable computing, gesture recognition and brain computer interfaces. We rounded off each discussion with an activity that reinforced the point we were trying to make.

Eimear investigated the area of tangible and wearable computing. This involved an overview of the traditional way we interact with desktop computers; something that has changed very little over the past thirty years or so. Eimear then spoke about some more recent examples of tangible interfaces and wearable computing which challenge the standard paradigm she outlined at the beginning. The session ended with a ‘magic thing’ exercise where we split the class into 3 groups and gave each group an object which they could use in any of the scenarios we provided. It was a really enjoyable exercise where the solutions ranged from the novel to the extreme.

Next, I spoke about gestures and gesture-based interfaces. This started with a look at very early examples of systems that required physical interaction from the user. I then went on to talk about some current examples like multi-touch gestures and spatial operating environments. This culminated in a discussion about the Microsoft Kinect which, thanks to a series of open source libraries, makes gesture-based interaction commercially affordable and widely accessible. We finished this discussion with an activity where the same group were given a list of routine computer operations and had to suggest gesture-based alternatives for them. We were trying to make the point that people are more engaged when using gestures as a means of interaction.

Finally, Rody took a look at brain-computer interaction. This took engagement with the body to the extreme. After looking at the history behind processes that allow you to access signals from the brian, Rody then spoke about some recent creative applications of the technology. This ranged from a mind-controlled skateboard to esoteric brainwave musical compositions. We also gave a physical demo of a Star Wars toy built around the same principles. Our final activity summed up our overall aim; that direct engagement with the body results in better communication with interfaces. We did this by playing a variation of Chinese whispers, where the class was split into two groups. The first group consisted of two people and the second group had everyone else. Both groups were asked to form a queue in front of the blackboard. We gave each the person at the end of each queue the same drawing and asked them to draw it on the back of the person in front. The first group did a great job of reproducing the image while it was, as you might expect, a much greater challenge for the second group. In other words, the less noise in the communication between you and the interface the better.

All in all the topic was very interesting to explore and the seminar was really enjoyable.