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Structures, forms, and stuff: the materiality and medium of interaction


Though information is popularly, and often academically, understood to be immaterial, nonetheless, we only encounter it in material forms, in books, on laptops, in our brains, in spoken language, and so forth. In the past decade, HCI has increasingly focused on the material dimensions of interacting with computational devices and information. This paper explores three major strands of this research—tangible user interfaces, theories of computational materiality, and craft-oriented approaches to HCI. We argue that each of these offers a formulation of the materiality of interaction: as physical, as metaphysical, or as tradition communicating. We situate these three formulations in relation to debates on the nature of media, from philosophical aesthetics (the ontology of art, in particular), media studies, and visual cultural studies. We argue that the formulations of materiality, information, and meaning from HCI and those from the humanities have deeper underlying similarities than may be expected and that exploring these similarities have two significant benefits. Such an analysis can benefit these differing threads in different ways, taking their current theories and adding to them. It also serves as a basis to import philosophical art concepts in a robust way into HCI, that is, not simply as prepackaged ideas to be applied to HCI, but rather as ideas always already enmeshed in productive and living debates that HCI is now poised to enter—to the benefit of both HCI and the humanities.

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Correspondence to Shad Gross.

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Gross, S., Bardzell, J. & Bardzell, S. Structures, forms, and stuff: the materiality and medium of interaction. Pers Ubiquit Comput 18, 637–649 (2014).

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  • Materiality
  • Medium
  • HCI
  • Design
  • Art
  • Philosophy
  • Aesthetic interaction