rial nature of interaction—that is
analytically interesting. Indeed, he
argued it would be a mistake to confuse the material with the simply
tangible. Rather, it is the forms of
materiality at work—the range of
material properties at play, questions of durability, fragility, visibility, malleability, deformability, density, heft, and so on—that contribute
to the sociocultural considerations,
and that further, these perspectives
could be brought to bear beyond the
domain of “tangible” experience [ 5].
While the panel did cover this
range from new digital materials
to important implications for HCI,
in applying this theoretical lens,
we also had good examples of how
design practices increasingly merge
the digital and the physical. As
described by the industry keynote
panelist Mark Rolston from Frog
Design, “Since most of the modern
computing experience is about the
world we live in (people, places, and
things), it makes sense to move the
user interface out into the material
world.” In saying so, Rolston pin-
pointed the importance of a design
perspective governed by ideas of
literally moving the digital material
out there into the physical world.
Finally, and in an attempt to slightly
challenge this focus on the mate-
rials and to add a philosophical
twist as to what really constitutes a
material, Petra Sundström conclud-
ed that “it might not all be materi-
als, but the perspective can help
us be more innovative.” In claming
this, she pointed out an argument
further elaborated in Sundström
et al. [ 6] in which the digital mate-
rial really is to be understood and
explored as a material, and a mate-
rial we need to consider in design
like any other. The challenge that
these positions express is precisely
one of novelty; while some denied
Rolston’s implication that interac-
tion had ever not been in the mate-
rial world, Sundström’s argument
suggests that materiality is none-
theless seen as a source of innova-
tion—the question, of course, being
what sort of innovation!
To summarize the discussion from
the panel, a material lens offers a
number of very different implications for HCI research and practice.
For some, this lens repositions the
material as the locus of inquiry and,
in doing so, returns HCI research
to its roots in computational exploration. Focusing on the basic elements of design practice places HCI
alongside other materials-centric
design disciplines, including industrial design, architecture, the fine
arts, or glassblowing—areas that
have always highlighted the importance of a close understanding of
the materials in play. For others, a
material lens introduces new opportunities for designers to think more
broadly about what computation can
comprise. It positions traditional or
mundane materials (e.g., wood and
metal) alongside new or novel materials (e.g., shape-changing polymers),
expanding possibilities for design.
Last, this lens offers new theoretical framings that acknowledge the
material conditions and material
consequences of design environments. It enables researchers to conceptualize the computational based
on its properties and how, through
their arrangement, they entangle
with social practices in different
ways, revealing particularities, surfaces, and temporal flows [ 7].
A good material understanding
thus brings with it a potential for
extending the reach of HCI. In applying this lens, we may more effectively explore the digital as a design
material and how it might work in
composition with other (physical)
materials, on the one hand, and
examine people’s experiences with,
through, and of digital materials, on
the other. In short, a material lens
presents us with a new way of seeing [ 8], and it brings with it a huge
potential for advancing HCI—as a
design discipline, as an academic
field, and as a potential for new user
experiences. The question around
which many of our discussions
revolved is also whether materiality
provides a new ground for consideration of the relationship between
HCI research and practice. While
such a brief discussion could do little more than provoke the question
in the first place, some agreement
could nonetheless be struck: It’s the
experience, and experience matters!
1. Wiberg, M., Ishii, H., Rosner, D., Vallgårda,
A., Dourish, P., Sundström, P., Kerridge, T., and
Rolston, M. Material interactions—from atoms and
bits to entangled practices (Panel at CHI’ 12). Proc.
of CHI´ 12 Extended Abstracts. 2012.
2. Ishii, H., Lakatos, D., Bonanni, L., and Labrune,
J-B. Radical atoms: Beyond tangible bits, toward
transformable materials. interactions 19, 1 (2012),
3. Vallgårda, A. and Redström, J. Computational
composites. Proc. of the SIGCHI Conference on
Human Factors in Computing Systems. 2007, 513-522.
4. Vallgårda, A. and Sokoler, T. A material strategy:
Exploring the material properties of computers.
International Journal of Design 4, 3 (2010), 1-14.
5. Dourish, P. and Mazmanian, M. Media as material: Information representations as material foundations for organizational practice. Proc. Third Intl.
Symposium on Process Organization Studies (Corfu,
6. Sundström, P., Taylor, A., Grufberg, K., Wirström,
N., Solsona, J., and Lundén, M. Inspirational
bits—towards a shared understanding of the digital
material. Proc. of CHI’ 11 (Vancouver, BC). 2011,
7. Rosner, D.K. The material practices of collaboration. Proc. of the ACM Conference on Computer
Supported Cooperative Work. 2012, 1155-1164.
8. Wiberg, M. and Robles, E. Computational compositions: Aesthetics, materials, and interaction design.
International Journal of Design 4, 2 (2010), 65-76.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS The authors all par-
ticipated in a panel held at CHI 2012 (Austin, Texas,
May 5-10) titled “Material Interactions—From Atoms
and Bits to Entangled Practices.”
March + April 2013
© 2013 ACM 1072-5520/13/03 $15.00