Invisible Interfaces

Ken Fishkin, Anuj Gujar, Beverly Harrison, and Roy Want, Xerox PARC,,,

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University May 7, 1999


While computers have become qualitatively smaller, cheaper, and more powerful, we still interact with them using techniques that differ very little from those of two decades ago. At Xerox PARC, the "Extreme UI" group has been investigating ways to enrich our connection with the computer: to investigate new interaction techniques which use everyday skills and the physical affordances of the devices themselves. By integrating the natural affordances of the device(s) with the natural gestures we already use, we hope to lower the cognitive effort required for interaction; to make the application interface "invisible".

In this talk, we'll describe two of our investigations. The first effort, "Squeezy UI", focuses on enhancing computational devices with sensors (tilt, pressure, etc.) so that the devices can sense a variety of gestures (squeeze, tilt, shake, etc.) made by the user. By integrating these into the device interface, a more natural interface can be achieved.

The second effort, "etags", takes advantage of the progress made in the electronic tagging industry, which allows cheap, robust, easily sensed IDs to be unobtrusively placed on almost any object. By augmenting handheld computers to detect these IDs, a variety of enhanced interactions become possible.

In this talk, we'll show videos demonstrating both of these techniques in action, and discuss them, their implications, and their limitations. Parts of this talk will be a "sneak preview" of a talk which we will giving at SIGCHI in mid-May.


  1. Roy Want, Kenneth P. Fishkin, Anuj Gujar, and Beverly L. Harrison. "Bridging Physical and Virtual Worlds with Electronic Tags". Proceedings of SIGCHI '99 (Pittsburgh, PA, May 15-20) ACM, New York, 1999. to appear.
  2. Kenneth P. Fishkin, Thomas P. Moran, and Beverly L. Harrison. "Embodied User Interfaces: Towards Invisible User Interfaces". Proceedings of EHCI '98 (Heraklion, Crete, September 13-18). In Press.
  3. Beverly L. Harrison, Kenneth P. Fishkin, Anuj Gujar, Carlos Mochon, and Roy Want, "Squeeze Me, Hold Me, Tilt Me! An Exploration of Manipulative User Interfaces". Proceedings of SIGCHI '98 (Los Angeles, CA, April 18-23) ACM, New York, 1998, pp. 17-24.

Ken Fishkin is a member of the "Extreme UI" novel user interface group at Xerox PARC. At PARC, he has been a principal member of a number of projects involving innovative user interface designs, including the "Invisible Interface", "Magic Lens", and "Dynamic Queries" projects. He holds a MS (Computer Science) from the University of California-Berkeley.

Anuj Gujar is a member of the "Extreme UI" novel user interface group at Xerox PARC. He has expertise in user interface design, applications programming, and rapid prototypying. He holds a MS (Computer Science) from the University of Toronto.

Beverly Harrison is a member of the "Extreme UI" novel user interface group at Xerox PARC. She has worked on designing systems and interfaces for telecommunications (1983-89), for annotation of video (1991), for computer animation and modeling (1995-6), and most recently on interfaces which blend physical and virtual worlds (1997-9). She holds degrees in mathematics (BMath, Waterloo), industrial engineering, and human factors engineering (MS,PhD, University of Toronto). She has extensive industrial experience from Bell-Northern Research (Nortel) and Alias-Silicon Graphics.

Roy Want is the manager of the Embedded Systems Area in the Computer Science Laboratory at Xerox PARC. He is a veteran of PARC's original Ubiquitous Computing work. He was the creator of the ParcTab and before that the Active Badge location system at ORL. His previous research focused on distributed multimedia systems. During this time he participated in the ISLAND project at Cambridge University and the Pandora project at Olivetti Research Ltd. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from Cambridge University.


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