Computer Laboratory

Technical reports

Tangible user interfaces for peripheral interaction

Darren Edge

December 2008, 237 pages

This technical report is based on a dissertation submitted January 2008 by the author for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the University of Cambridge, Jesus College.


Since Mark Weiser’s vision of ubiquitous computing in 1988, many research efforts have been made to move computation away from the workstation and into the world. One such research area focuses on “Tangible” User Interfaces or TUIs – those that provide both physical representation and control of underlying digital information.

This dissertation describes how TUIs can support a “peripheral” style of interaction, in which users engage in short, dispersed episodes of low-attention interaction with digitally-augmented physical tokens. The application domain in which I develop this concept is the office context, where physical tokens can represent items of common interest to members of a team whose work is mutually interrelated, but predominantly performed independently by individuals at their desks.

An “analytic design process” is introduced as a way of developing TUI designs appropriate for their intended contexts of use. This process is then used to present the design of a bimanual desktop TUI that complements the existing workstation, and encourages peripheral interaction in parallel with workstation-intensive tasks. Implementation of a prototype TUI is then described, comprising “task” tokens for work-time management, “document” tokens for face-to-face sharing of collaborative documents, and “contact” tokens for awareness of other team members’ status and workload. Finally, evaluation of this TUI is presented via description of its extended deployment in a real office context.

The main empirically-grounded results of this work are a categorisation of the different ways in which users can interact with physical tokens, and an identification of the qualities of peripheral interaction that differentiate it from other interaction styles. The foremost benefits of peripheral interaction were found to arise from the freedom with which tokens can be appropriated to create meaningful information structures of both cognitive and social significance, in the physical desktop environment and beyond.

Full text

PDF (8.6 MB)

BibTeX record

  author =	 {Edge, Darren},
  title = 	 {{Tangible user interfaces for peripheral interaction}},
  year = 	 2008,
  month = 	 dec,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-733}