The Effect of Tangible Interaction on Spatial Design Tasks

  • Jingoog Kim
  • Mary Lou Maher
  • Lina Lee
Conference paper


Tangible user interfaces (TUIs) enable physical affordances that encourage the spatial manipulation of multiple physical objects to interact with digital information. We claim that the affordances of tangible interaction can affect design cognition on spatial tasks. While many researchers have claimed that TUIs improve spatial cognition, there is a lack of agreement about what improve means and a lack of empirical evidence to support the general claim. While most cognitive studies of TUIs focus on a comparison of tangible and traditional GUI keyboard and mouse interaction, we focus on comparing the use of TUIs on spatial versus nonspatial design tasks to validate the claim that tangible interaction specifically affects spatial design tasks. The results show that TUIs encourage users to perform more epistemic actions, leads to unexpected discoveries, and off-loads spatial reasoning to the physical objects. We conclude that the positive impact of tangible interaction is more dominant in spatial design tasks than nonspatial design tasks.


  1. 1.
    Kessell A, Tversky B (2006) Using diagrams and gestures to think and talk about insight problems. In: Proceedings of the meeting of the cognitive science society, vol 28, p 28Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Goldin-Meadow S, Beilock SL (2010) Action’s influence on thought: the case of gesture. Perspect Psychol Sci 5(6):664–674CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Graham TA (1999) The role of gesture in children’s learning to count. J Exp Child Psychol 74(4):333–355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Fjeld M, Barendregt W (2009) Epistemic action: a measure for cognitive support in tangible user interfaces? Behav Res Methods 41(3):876–881CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Fleming M, Maglio PP (2015) How physical interaction helps performance in a scrabble-like task. In: CogSci, pp 716–721Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Antle AN, Droumeva M, Ha D (2009, June) Hands on what? comparing children’s mouse-based and tangible-based interaction. In: Proceedings of the 8th international conference on interaction design and children, ACM, pp 80–88Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Maehigashi A, Miwa K, Oda K, Nakamura Y, Mori K, Igami T (2016) Influence of 3D images and 3D-printed objects on spatial reasoning. In: Proceedings of the 38th annual meeting of the cognitive science society, pp 414–419Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Johannes K, Powers J, Couper L, Silberglitt M, Davenport J (2016) Tangible models and haptic representations aid learning of molecular biology concepts. Grantee Submission, 372–377Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Smithwick D, Kirsh D (2015) Let’s Get physical: thinking with things in architectural design. In: CogSci, pp 2236–2241Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Kim MJ, Maher ML (2008) The impact of tangible user interfaces on designers’ spatial cognition. HCI 23(2):101–137Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Maher ML, Lee L, Gero JS, Yu R, Clausner T (2017) Characterizing tangible interaction during a creative combination task. Design computing and cognition’16. Springer, Cham, pp 39–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Clausner T, Maher ML, Gonzales B (2015) Conceptual Combination modulated by action using tangible computers. In: Poster presented at the 37th annual meeting of the cognitive science society, PasadenaGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Soleimani A, Green KE, Herro D, Walker ID (2016, June) A tangible, story-construction process employing spatial, computational-thinking. In Proceedings of the 15th international conference on interaction design and children, ACM, pp 157–166Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Kirsh D, Maglio P (1994) On distinguishing epistemic from pragmatic action. Cogn Sci 18(4):513–549CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Dorst K, Cross N (2001) Creativity in the design process: co-evolution of problem–solution. Des Stud 22(5):425–437CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Cook SW, Mitchell Z, Goldin-Meadow S (2008) Gesturing makes learning last. Cognition 106(2):1047–1058CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Trofatter C, Kontra C, Beilock S, Goldin-Meadow S (2015) Gesturing has a larger impact on problem-solving than action, even when action is accompanied by words. Lang Cogn Neurosci 30(3):251–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Alibali MW, Kita S, Young A (2000) Gesture and the process of speech production: we think, therefore we gesture. Lang Cogn Process 15:593–613CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of North Carolina at CharlotteCharlotteUSA

Personalised recommendations