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Giving form to computational things: developing a practice of interaction design


The computer is no longer the center of attention. Thus, what we design is no longer the interface to the computer. Rather, what we design is a thing or an environment in which a computer might be used to create certain desired effects. Indeed, interaction design in a sense becomes the practice of giving form to artifacts or environments rather like any of the other design disciplines that we have know for centuries. However, giving form to computational things is highly complex and somewhat different than most other form-giving practices due to its temporal form element—its ability to change between states. Thus, an interaction design practice needs to encompass this temporal form giving in combination with physical form giving and performances of the interaction gestalt. In this paper, I propose this trinity of forms as a framework to unfold the practice of interaction design. I further demonstrate how computational composites present a way to work with the temporal form and the physical form in a process not too different from any traditional form-giving practice. Lastly, I point to some tools and techniques to deal with the interdependencies of the three form elements and thereby also demonstrate that a form-giving practice of interaction design is already well under way.

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  1. Form giving exists in the Scandinavian languages as formgivning, in Dutch as vormgeving, and in German as Gestaltung and is traditionally used to denote the specific practice of giving form to materials as done in, for instance, the practice of craft.


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Correspondence to Anna Vallgårda.

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Vallgårda, A. Giving form to computational things: developing a practice of interaction design. Pers Ubiquit Comput 18, 577–592 (2014).

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  • Temporal form
  • Physical form
  • Interaction gestalt
  • Form-giving
  • Computer as material
  • Material turn
  • Computational composites