Topplr: Designing Tangible Expressions

As the era of ubiquitous computing unfolds, many have explored divergent approaches to enable human-computer interactions. Most of these approaches applied to the marketed products leverage visuals and audio, which are intangible modalities, resulting in the loss of tangibility. Such loss from interactions could cause disconnected interactions from the physical world, impoverished user experience, and increased risks of user alienation from the physical world. This instigates me, as a designer, to think about the value of involving tangible dynamics in everyday applications. And this is what this project is about. This project grounded on a peripheral interaction design Topplr (exploring tangible input) and further explored what the tangible output could be, what the output means, and how to instigate more resembling designs. This resulted in Topplr and ESPBoost, an emotive interface, and a design toolkit respectively.

Overview of Process

Tangible Input

Early explorations from the peripheral interaction elective have defined a tangible music controller named Topplr, consisting of three types of tangible input, 1) skipping a song by tumbling, 2) changing volumes by rotation, and 3) playing or pausing by squeezing. It is aimed to allow the user effortlessly to perform interactions with music controls while working behind the computer.

Tumbling: skip a song

Rotating: volume +/-

Squeezing: play/pause

Tangible Output

This phase was mainly led by a research question: “What if an input-only interface from our every day allows actuation?”. As interactions usually encapsulate input and output, the tangible input of Topplr has already been defined, while the design possibility of the tangible output of Topplr remains underexplored.

However, over the courses of tangible prototyping explorations, some critical issues on implementing actuated prototypes and user study method were found: 1) User evaluation is conducted after the functional prototype is built; 2) Novel design concepts without sufficient prototyping skills/knowledge; 3) Intermediate tool between lo-fi (e.g. sketches) and hi-fi (e.g. fully codes prototypes) unavailable. These issues directed the project to explore how to widely explore tangible output and evaluate them before actually implementing them, and lastly accelerating the prototyping process with an exclusive intermediate toolkit.






Over the courses of exploration and investigation of implementing bi-directional prototypes, a toolkit that pre-configures with common sensors and drivers for tangible interactions were developed and manufactured at a small scale. It is exclusively designed to implement interactive, portable, actuate-able prototypes with connectivity.

ESPBoost Breakout Board

ESPBoost Pinout

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