Touch is the new click

Noticed this headline today on the Innovision Research & Technology website:

Touch is the new click

Interesting that they are comparing RFID/NFC to a Button.

Posted in Visual design | 1 Comment

MIRW 2007

Mobile HCI workshop

A new workshop on Mobile Interaction with the Real World is taking place at Mobile HCI in Singapore this September.

Following the success of Mobile Interaction with the Real World; at MobileHCI 2006, we would like to continue this workshop as a forum that concentrates on mobile interactions with real world objects. Among the questions that come up in this area of research are:
• Which kinds of interactions with the real world exist?
• What technologies can be used to implement mobile interaction with the real world?
• How can real world objects and services be described?
• How should systems and services for this kind of mobile interactions be designed?
• What should these user interfaces look like?
• What does the interaction design and usability look like for mobile interaction with physical objects?
• Can these interfaces be generated automatically?
• Should real world services be defined in a standardized way (e.g. with semantic web services)?
• How can real world objects be associated with new services?
• Which issues concerning privacy and security arise from this new kind of mobile interaction?

Last year’s workshop succeeded in bringing together like-minded researchers in the areas of physical hyperlinks, Near Field Communication and mobile technology.

The deadline for submissions of workshop papers is 29 June 2007.

Posted in Events, Workshops | 3 Comments

Mobile Camp NYC

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be presenting at Mobile Camp NYC on Saturday 19th May in New York City.

I’ll be presenting some history and context around Physical Hyperlinks and Touch-based interactions.


Download my presentation here [PDF, 1.8 Mb]

Posted in Events, Mobile, Research | 1 Comment

Hybrid World Lab slides


This week at the Hybrid World Lab at Mediamatic I have given five presentations related to NFC, physical, tangible, social interactions and design methodology.

Here are the slides for each of those presentations. They are PDF files.

Designing between things, places and people
An introduction to some of my work and current work in the Touch project. Looks at the design briefs or research questions around RFID and NFC.

Introduction to NFC phones
A quick introduction to NFC phones and their applications.

Physical hyperlink technology
An overview of physical hyperlinking technologies and some spatial annotation projects.

Tangible and social media & Mobile social software
An overview of some tangible and mobile social software projects.

Context, scenarios and prototyping
Some ideas, directions and guidelines for making ‘hybrid world applications’. The importance of choosing context, people, places, things and situations.

Nicolas Nova’s slides are here.

Posted in Events, Workshops | 2 Comments

Touch as interaction medium

This is a design brief, one of many themes that the Touch project is investigating.

Push to cross

In London, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong and elsewhere the ‘swipe’ or ‘tap’ is already a common interaction for paying and entering in a wide variety of public situations. In the near future the mobile phone and RFID card may be used extensively for ticketing and payment across the globe.

If we are using our mobile phones to interact with the physical world via NFC, what kinds of new interaction methods emerge on our mobile devices?

At the moment NFC phones may give us tactile and audio feedback when we touch an NFC tag. We are then forced to look at the screen to confirm NFC actions. But one of the largest usability opportunities for NFC is reducing our reliance on screen-based interfaces. Are there are more subtle and intuitive ways of giving feedback on actions without having to look at the screen?

On the input side we need to work out what kinds of interaction methods work between the mobile phone and the physical world. Are we dealing with touching, tapping, swiping, pointing, hitting, bouncing, squeezing? Does RFID-based interaction work with gestures? Do we need dedicated buttons that enable and work alongside RFID interactions?

Within the interaction, we need to consider whether there are more advanced forms of interactions such as drag and drop, hold, hover, and different states beyond the simple hyperlink. In what contexts might these interactions be used? In what ways might these interactions affect people’s behaviour and activities in public places? What kinds of activities and interactions are suitable in public space?

On the feedback side, sound, music, vibration, light and tactile feedback can all be used to create efficient, usable and satisfying interactions. Think about the richness of feedback for many senses from a game system like the Nintendo Wii, there is no reason why mobile interactions should be any less rich.

In this project it would be good to prototype a range of interaction methods, with a range of inputs and outputs, and to test them out on a cross-section of potential users. The project might consider looking at research into tangible and haptic computing, and the human sense of proximity and peripersonal space, particularly if we are to work out how to create interactions between people.

This brief may also consider some of the instructional and iconography issues around these interactions.


Mäkelä, K., Belt, S., Greenblatt, D., and Häkkilä, J. 2007. Mobile interaction with visual and RFID tags: a field study on user perceptions. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (San Jose, California, USA, April 28 - May 03, 2007). CHI ‘07. ACM Press, New York, NY, 991-994. Link

Rukzio, E. Leichtenstern, K., Callaghan, V., Holleis, P., Schmidt, A., Chin, J. An Experimental Comparison of Physical Mobile Interaction Techniques: Touching, Pointing and Scanning. In Proc. Ubicomp 2006, 87-104. PDF

Rukzio, E., Paolucci, M., Finin, T., Wisner, P., and Payne, T. 2006. Mobile interaction with the real world. In Proceedings of the 8th Conference on Human-Computer interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (Helsinki, Finland, September 12 - 15, 2006). MobileHCI ‘06, vol. 159. ACM Press, New York, NY, 295-296. PDF

Välkkynen, P., Niemelä, M., and Tuomisto, T. 2006. Evaluating touching and pointing with a mobile terminal for physical browsing. In Proceedings of the 4th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer interaction: Changing Roles (Oslo, Norway, October 14 - 18, 2006). A. Mørch, K. Morgan, T. Bratteteig, G. Ghosh, and D. Svanaes, Eds. NordiCHI ‘06, vol. 189. ACM Press, New York, NY, 28-37. Link

Swindells, C., Inkpen, K. M., Dill, J. C., and Tory, M. 2002. That one there! Pointing to establish device identity. In Proceedings of the 15th Annual ACM Symposium on User interface Software and Technology (Paris, France, October 27 - 30, 2002). UIST ‘02. ACM Press, New York, NY, 151-160. Link

Ljungstrand, P. and Holmquist, L. E. 1999. WebStickers: using physical objects as WWW bookmarks. In CHI ‘99 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 15 - 20, 1999). CHI ‘99. ACM Press, New York, NY, 332-333. Link

Read more about these design briefs.

Posted in Design briefs, Interaction design, Research | 3 Comments

NFC access control

This is a design brief, one of many themes that the Touch project is investigating.


RFID and NFC can be used to provide access to places in the same way as traditional keys or tickets.

This brief emerged from a frustration with existing access control systems. For interfaces of such potential simplicity they are often frustratingly difficult to use. Observe a queue forming by a train ticket gate or at a gym, and witness first-hand how an interface can cause confusion, frustration and even humiliation. Lack of feedback, delays and awkward timing make these systems some of the worst examples of interaction design practice.

Considering the issue of access control as a whole, what kinds of interactions are needed to make access easy and humane?

What are the variables involved in access control? How should access be visualised for users? When does access need to be easy and transparent, and when should it be obscure or even threatening? What kinds of feedback (audio, haptic, visual) can we use to make these interactions easier? In particular, how might an NFC-enabled mobile phone change access interactions? This might link very successfully with other briefs, in particular looking at how icon or graphic treatments might work and the kinds of interaction methods that are evolving for NFC interactions.

Going further, how should RFID work within existing architectural spaces? How might architectural structure alter once we have more advanced access systems? Does the concept of ‘boundary’ change?

Read more about these design briefs.

Posted in Design briefs, Interaction design, Mobile | 1 Comment

A graphic language for RFID

This is a design brief, one of many themes that the Touch project is investigating.

The dashed line

RFID is being used for an increasing number of interactions with everyday infrastructures. From travelcards, keyless entry, passports and micropayments to content downloads, smart posters and digital wallets on mobile phones. Attempts have been made to represent these interactions graphically from isolated groups in academic, commercial or technical contexts. No clear or definite language has emerged.

How do we visualise RFID-based interactions?

There may be two initial ways of approaching this. The first approach is to think about the act or the action of the interaction: how do we invite users to touch, swipe or otherwise interact with RFID? Are there abstractions here that could allow all RFID interactions to come under one ‘brand’?

The second approach is to think about what the interaction will do, the verb. Here you could think about purchasing, opening, closing, downloading and identifying. How do we represent those in a consistent and useful way? By looking into existing NFC research and documentation you can see the kinds of use-cases that are being designed with NFC.

The project might also consider the physical form of RFID readers and writers in the environment. How might we redesign a ticketing machine or payment terminal with an NFC interface rather than traditional payment and selection interfaces? What is the optimum location, form and placement of an RFID reader for key access for instance. This might cross over into the other brief: RFID access control.

Detailed brief

This is a more detailed brief developed with Schulze & Webb in collaboration with Nokia Research. Its purpose is to create a context for graphic designers to create icon systems for RFID. It has been used at Central St Martins with graphic design students and at AHO with industrial design students.

Purpose of this project

In this project we want to design and test a range of icons that explain important aspects of RFID-based interactions. How do we visualise the presence of RFID? Are there useful ways of representing the kinds of interactions and functions involved? Is the job of the icon to indicate the active field, the verb, or the technology? At a different level, do we also need approachable graphics to alleviate anxiety, confusion or frustration? Do users know what the limits of the system are and do they care?

There are three things to consider in each case:

  • Context around the task
  • Content of the interaction
  • Risk of the interaction

    The key question here is what elements of this can we take for granted, and what should be represented in an icon? Ideally the icons should say as little as possible, to retain simplicity and to not get in the way in the case of repeated exposure. So the task is about creating clear signs that consider context, content and risk.

    If we take the example of an NFC purchase interaction (a till or cash register), will users know whether the transaction involves giving or receiving? Will they intuitively know the risk involved? Where does the content (the amount of money) get represented?

    The graphic deliverable

    For testing we need six to ten variations of each theme:

    Generic icons

  • Abstractions and actions for ‘branding’ NFC
  • Characters
  • Metaphors


  • Give, pay, upload, submit share, print
  • Receive, download, sync
  • Identify, open


    The deliverable includes all the icons laid out in their categories on A3 pages, with equal spacing.

    Each icon also needs to be printed on it’s own card, 10cm across, which is roughly equivalent to the range of an RFID tag.

    The icons need to work at a distance of 2-3 metres. The resolution of lines, fills and in particular cross-hatching or shading needs to take this into account. Black and white plus a few halftones should be the most commonly used shades, the use of colour will need to be very restricted, and if used, it must be in a common palette that can be applied across a wide range of icons.

    Ideally you will have scanned images of all sketches with descriptions of the process used in their creation for future publications.

    Questions to resolve through the design, testing and iteration:

  • Do people understand what the icons mean?
  • Is there a difference between nearness and touch, does it matter?
  • Can people interpret a system of signs as similar yet different? Can people infer from this the right action, but the correct differences in function?
  • Can people identify risk from icons where appropriate?
  • Do people feel confident using the same tools for spending as they do for personal data?
  • Are there more verbs that we should investigate that are not in the standard set of pay, open, download, print and share?
  • Over an array do they identify the RFID icons consistently against other communication icons which are not connected? (against some dummies that we’d produce) measure “enough uniqueness”
  • Do people respond differently to characters, does that help recognition?
  • Can some icons be too generic? Could an icon for share be confused with pay for instance, and does this need to be clarified?
  • More questions will surely emerge during design and testing.


    A graphic language for touch-based interactions. Timo Arnall. In Proceedings of Mobile Interaction with the Real World. PDF

    Mobile Interaction with Visual and RFID Tags – A Field Study on User Perceptions. Sara Belt, Dan Greenblatt, Jonna Häkkilä, Kaj Mäkelä. PDF

    Requesting Services by Touching Objects in the Environment. Jukka Riekki, University of Oulu, Timo Salminen, University of Oulu, Ismo Alakarppa. PDF

    Suggestions for Visualising Physical Hyperlinks. Pasi Välkkynen, Timo Tuomisto and Ilkka Korhonen. PDF

    Interaction Design for Visible Wireless, Noessel, C. et al., in Garfinkel, S. and Rosenberg, B., RFID: Applications, Security, And Privacy, Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA, 2006.

    Open Here, Mijksenaar, P.,Westendorp, P., Thames and Hudson, 1999. Link

    Understanding Comics, McCloud, S., Harper, 1994. Link

    Details of the RFID passport logo. Link.

    The proposed AIM RFID Emblem. Link.

    More details on Suica at Wikipedia. Link.

    The detailed RFID Brief as presented by Schulze & Webb alongside some initial RFID work. PDF

    Read more about these design briefs.

Posted in Design briefs, Research, Visual design | 8 Comments

Touch design briefs

The Touch project has been investigating applications and services for RFID and NFC since 2005. Although RFID and NFC have been much hyped, the technologies have been relatively little explored from a design perspective. We have discovered many opportunities for original explorations, studies and design projects.

At the beginning of 2007, as we started to run the Touch course, we decided to document some of the stronger patterns and themes that have emerged in the project. The themes are written as briefs in order to share them with with industry, researchers, designers, other practitioners and students. They assume a certain amount of knowledge about the technology and previous ubiquitous or tangible computing practice, and have been written with designers in mind.

The briefs range from very broad to very specific, and are not designed to cover the entire field of NFC interactions. There is no brief specifically dealing with privacy or trust for instance, which are clearly central issues for RFID. Instead, issues like privacy and trust are implicit in many of the briefs like the Graphic language for RFID and Fields and seams.

We will be publishing all of the briefs in detail and they will eventually be linked to from this post. New themes may also emerge, and we’ll publish them here. We’d be very happy for feedback and for people to take on the briefs and extend them. We’d be particularly interested in existing projects that deal with any of these areas.

A graphic language for RFID

The dashed line RFID is being used for an increasing number of interactions with everyday infrastructures. How do we visualise these RFID-based interactions?

Read more…

NFC and access control

Lift Considering the issue of access control as a whole, what kinds of interactions are needed to make access transparent and humane?

Read more…

Touch as an interaction medium

Push to cross If we are using our mobile phones to interact with the physical world via NFC, what kinds of new interaction methods emerge on mobile devices?

Read more…

The universal controller

If mobile devices start to do a lot more than voice calling and text messaging should the form factor change along with the function?

Read more…

Design for all with NFC

How might NFC be used to create new interfaces that are appropriate for the widest range of users?

Read more…

RFID and the everyday

In what ways will RFID be integrated into everyday things, places and behaviour?

Read more…

Interfacing the ‘internet of things

13.48 Do NFC devices have a role to play as an interface for the internet of things?

Read more…

Touch as culture

What are the social and cultural meanings of touch, and how do they vary according to context?

Read more…

Fields and seams

Don't place bank cards, hard disks, etc. here. How can we use the increasingly radio-saturated landscape for creative or functional purposes?

Read more…

Playful RFID

Street at play How can we use the material and interaction features of RFID to make games, toys or playful products?

Read more

Connected products

Plastic wrap What are the opportunities for integrating services, infrastructure, community and online brands into cheap, ubiquitous objects?

Read more…

Interactions of transactions

With the nature of transactions changing as NFC phones replace cash, cards and tickets how should transactions be designed to take advantage of these opportunities?

Read more…

Local applications and services

Tropical taxonomy What applications and services can be usefully tied to specific places or situations?

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Alternative RFID infrastructures

How can RFID infrastructures be designed to support private, bottom-up, ad-hoc and people-to-people interactions?

Read more…

Posted in About the project, Design briefs, Interaction design, Mobile, Research | 12 Comments