By using analog sensors in
input devices, continuous and
subtle changes in physical interaction
can be measured.
Used in this sense, the term “organic” refers to
subjective experience. It is therefore difficult to
define or quantify, but we can observe some qualities that make interfaces feel organic. Here, I focus
on techniques that achieve this effect by introducing physical properties to the user interface.
User interfaces can incorporate elements of
physics in a number of ways: one approach is to
imbue real physical objects with digital properties,
as in the work of the Tangible Media Group at the
MIT Media Lab. Another approach is to simulate
physical environments on screen: some car racing
games, for example, derive much of their appeal
from convincing physics modeling. But physics—
real or simulated—can also be very limiting: computers are so useful as a media platform precisely
because digital media are not bound by the laws of
physics (hypertext links break when printed on
paper; YouTube is incompatible with the real or
simulated physics of film projectors).
Organic interface design represents a less literal
approach which, rather than focusing on physical
objects or metaphors, emphasizes the analog, continuous, and transitional nature of physical reality
and human experience. By combining sensitive analog input devices with responsive graphics, we can
create user experiences that acknowledge the sub-tleties of physical interaction.
Aubiquitous example of analog input coupled with responsive graphics is the computer mouse: continuous mapping of
physical hand movement to virtual
pointer position results in the experience
of direct manipulation that is central to the WIMP
interface. The introduction of the mouse, in combination with a responsive screen interface, transported digital information from the abstract,
cerebral world of the command line right into our
tangible, physical environment.
The use of analog sensors was explored in the
development of the Gummi interface concept [ 1].
Gummi was inspired by a new generation of
organic, flexible electronics. The underlying reasoning was that, at some point in the future, it would
be possible to build credit-card sized, flexible computers composed of layers of organic electronic
components: flexible batteries, circuits, sensors, and
a flexible organic light-emitting diode (FOLED)