Android: Material Design

End of June Google presented what will be its new design for the coming Android L-release. It is called “Material Design” and has already received very positive reactions from top designers (“Google has really stepped up its design game”). Here’s Google’s demo video:

If you want to know more look at Google’s guidelines which are nicely written and complemented with many demo videos.

Designers around the web are busily trying to apply the new design. Here’s a design study about how Instagram could look like under Google’s new design paradigm:

Leap Motion v2: Much improved!

The leap motion controller lets you track your hands and fingers very much like Microsoft’s Kinect lets you track the whole body. This lets you create in-air gesture interfaces for e.g. controlling a robot hand (remote surgery), play games (shoot guns, fly planes) or musical instruments (pull strings).

However, when the leap motion device was released in 2013 it was quite a disappointment. The sensor plus software often loses track of individual fingers, usually when the hand is rotated (even by a small angle). This greatly limited its practical use in applications. It has never been clear whether this has been a software problem or a limitation of the hardware.

Now leap motion has released a new software which seems to indicate that this was a software problem. Even better: it has been fixed in the new v2 release. Look at this video. By the way, I’ve given it a try myself and the signals seem to be much, much more stable.

For downloading the beta version of the new software, go here:


Let’s Get Physical

A current direction in human-computer interaction is concerned with bringing back physical elements like real buttons, cubes, bricks, rulers etc. to the world of UI’s. This has been coined “Tangible User Interfaces” (TUIs) by Ishii from MIT (Ishii, Ullmer 1997). The idea is to exploit the physical properties of the object because they suggest a certain operations (round objects invite you to rotate them, buttons invite pressing them) and there is a sensual experience (haptic feedback) involved that is sometimes painful amiss in current touch interfaces.

Here’s an example that is based on the original ideas of Ulmer and Ishii (metaDESK):

Augmented Urban Model from Katja Knecht on Vimeo.

So in TUIs you control digital information (e.g. a desktop) by manipulating physical objects. However, what about the other way round? I.e. if the digital information changes, how can the physical objects be changed? This brings up a whole new set of potentials but also of technical challenges (Ishii et al. 2012).

The latest incarnation of this idea is inFORM, again from Ishii’s Tangible Media research group at MIT (Follmer et al. 2013):

In the arts the idea of bringing digital back to physical is manifest in “kinetic sculptures”, i.e. sculptures that change over time. Here is one impressive example at Singapore airport:

“Kinetic Rain” Changi Airport Singapore from ART+COM on Vimeo.


Hiroshi Ishii and Brygg Ullmer (1997) Tangible bits: towards seamless interfaces between people, bits and atoms. In: Proceedings of the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human factors in computing systems (CHI ’97). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 234-241.

Sean Follmer, Daniel Leithinger, Alex Olwal, Akimitsu Hogge, and Hiroshi Ishii (2013) inFORM: dynamic physical affordances and constraints through shape and object actuation. In Proceedings of the 26th annual ACM symposium on User interface software and technology (UIST ’13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 417-426.

Hiroshi Ishii, Dávid Lakatos, Leonardo Bonanni, and Jean-Baptiste Labrune. (2012) Radical atoms: beyond tangible bits, toward transformable materials. interactions 19, 1 (January 2012), 38-51.