Knowing by ear: leveraging human attention abilities in interaction design

  • Saskia Bakker
  • Elise van den Hoven
  • Berry Eggen
Open Access
Original Paper


In a world in which intelligent technologies are integrated in everyday objects and environments, users are at risk of being overburdened with information and interaction possibilities. Calm technology therefore aims at designing interactions that may reside in the periphery of the user’s attention and only shift to the center of the attention when required. However, for such designs to be effective, a detailed understanding of human attention abilities is needed. In this paper, we therefore present a qualitative study on the everyday periphery of the attention. As we expected, we found that sound plays a major role in this, which supports our approach to use interactive sonification as an interaction style for peripheral interaction. We present a range of rich examples of everyday situations that lay out the design space for peripheral interaction and support these findings by describing three initial designs that use interactive sonification for peripheral interaction.


Interaction design Periphery Attention User-centered design Audio Interactive sonification 


  1. 1.
    Weiser M (1999) The computer for the 21st century. Mob Comput Commun Rev 3:3–11 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Weiser M, Brown JS (1997) The coming age of calm technology. In: Denning PJ, Metcalfe RM (eds) Beyond calculation: the next fifty years of computing. Springer, New York, pp 75–85 Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cherry EC (1993) Some experiments on the recognition of speech, with one and with two ears. J Acoust Soc Am 25:975–979 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Gaver WW (1993) What in the world do we hear? An ecological approach to auditory event perception. Ecol Psychol 5:1–29 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Hermann T, Hunt A (2005) An introduction to interactive sonification. IEEE Multimed 12(2):20–24 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Eggen B, van Mensvoort K (2009) Making sense of what is going on ‘around’: designing environmental awareness information displays. In: Markopoulos P, de Ruyter B, Mackay W (eds) Awareness systems: advances in theory, methodology and design. Springer, London, pp 99–124 Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Matthews T, Dey AK, Mankoff J, Carter S, Rattenbury T (2004) A toolkit for managing user attention in peripheral displays. In: UIST’04: proceedings of the 17th annual ACM symposium on user interface software and technology. ACM, New York, pp 247–256 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ishii H, Wisneski C, Brave S, Dahley A, Gorbet M, Ullmer B, Yarin P (1998) AmbientROOM: integrating ambient media with architectural space. In: CHI’98: conference summary on human factors in computing systems. ACM, New York, pp 173–174 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Walker BN, Nees MA (in press) Theory of sonification. In: Hermann T, Hunt A, Neuhoff J (eds) Handbook of sonification. Academic Press, New York.
  10. 10.
    Markopoulos P (2009) A design framework for awareness systems. In: Markopoulos P, de Ruyter B, Mackay W (eds) Awareness systems: advances in theory, methodology and design. Springer, London, pp 49–72 Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Mynatt ED, Back M, Want R, Baer M, Ellis JB (1998) Designing audio aura. In: CHI’98: proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems, pp 566–573 Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Mauney BS, Walker BN (2004) Creating functional and livable soundscapes for peripheral monitoring of dynamic data. In: ICAD’04: proceedings of he 10th international conference on auditory display Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Pashler HE (1998) The psychology of attention. MIT Press, Cambridge Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Treisman AM (1964) Verbal cues, language, and meaning in selective attention. Am J Psychol 77:206–219 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Moray N (1959) Attention in dichotic listening: affective cues and the influence of instructions. Q J Exp Psychol 11:56–60 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Kahneman D (1973) Attention and effort. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Wickens CD, Hollands JG (2000) Engineering psychology and human performance. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Bakker S, van den Hoven E, Eggen B (2010) Design for the periphery. In: Eurohaptics 2010: proceedings of the special symposium haptic and audio-visual stimuli, pp 71–80 Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Sleeswijk Visser F, Stappers JP, van der Lugt R, Sanders EBN (2005) Contextmapping: experiences from practice. CoDesign 1:119–149 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Gaver B, Dunne T, Pacenti E (1999) Design: cultural probes. ACM Interact 6:21–29 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Liamputtong P, Ezzy D (2005) Qualitative research methods. Oxford University Press, Melbourne Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Hsieh H, Shannon SE (2005) Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qual Health Res 15:1277–1288 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Siegel S, Castellan NJ (1988) Nonparametric statistics for the behavioral sciences. McGraw-Hill, Boston Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Landis JR, Koch GG (1977) The measurement of observer agreement for categorical data. Biometrics 33:159–174 MathSciNetzbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    James W (1890) The principles of psychology. Dover, New York CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Saskia Bakker
    • 1
  • Elise van den Hoven
    • 1
  • Berry Eggen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Industrial DesignEindhoven University of TechnologyEindhovenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations