The touch screen is a wonder device. It enables infinite UIs through just a few bits of new code. Through dynamic 2-D interactions, anything you could draw can become a controller, and there’s a whole, whole lot you can draw. But beyond this convenience, touch screens have a relatively cold interaction model. They’re hard; they’re sanitized. They’re glass—pretty to look at, not so nice to curl up and take a nap on.
Designer Jo Eunhee has developed a new type of interaction model called Tangible Textural Interface (TTI). Currently part of a working prototype sound system, it enables users to change volume, tracks, and balance by pushing their fingers into fabric.
"The physical sensorial experience of products with the digital contents is a much neglected area," Eunhee tells Co.Design. "Existing interfaces still remain as grey-scale buttons and controls which inherit less emotional value to products that we interact with in daily lives."
It’s a compelling idea. Through the manipulation of flexible fabric, one’s hands sink right into the device, creating a certain playful intimacy with the product, like you’re poking a spouse’s belly button. At the same time, the interface itself is responsive. Another panel within the cloth changes its typography in acknowledgement of new settings. The user is literally reshaping the experience as they go.
We’re told that the mechanisms at play are confidential, but they include a "curved 3-D surface" that uses "shape memory alloys and sensors to sense and physically morph." No doubt, the simplest solution would be an IR-based sensor (like Kinect), which could spot swiped contours through an invisible light projecting from within the product’s frame. Following a single point in what’s ostensibly a vacuum would be a cinch.
As of now, Eunhee is developing TTI from prototype into mass-producible product. It will be fascinating to see if such human-conscious, strokable interfaces will have their day in the sun, or if we’ll all eschew creature comforts to tap more buttons on glass.
[Hat tip: mocoloco]