Tacit Interaction

Elin Rønby Pedersen, FX Palo Alto Research Laboratory, Inc.

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University May 14, 1999


We notice a disquieting resemblance between the user of current computer technology and the unfortunate person trapped in the medieval pillory. We suggest this is symptomatic for a design tradition that looks at people as soft blobs augmenting our "magnificent machines," rather than recognizing and utilizing the amazing capability we humans have qua our embodied intellect and intelligence.

FXPAL has over the last few years developed an emerging framework for interaction design which combines (1) technology for the entire human body and mind (i.e., efforts in engaging more of the human capacity) with (2) tangible computing (i.e., efforts of re-physicalizing, re-naturalizing the human-computer interface). We call this framework "tacit interaction"; for a particular task that the user engages in we look at the role of technology relative to the task. We emphasize two major element of the interaction: the degree of explicitness, pre-meditation, and intent with which the user deal with the computer, and the attention required to perform the current task.

In this talk we will explain the framework. We will locate traditional computer applications in the models of our framework, and we will present and position some of our own prototypes: AROMA, Palette, and TactGuide. Tacit Interaction is one of several approaches to turn the concept of ubiquitous computing into practical designs and design criteria; in the talk we will also relate our work to some of the other fascinating design efforts, including the ExtremeUI from Xerox PARC and Tangible Bits from MIT MediaLab.


Elin Rønby Pedersen & Tomas Sokoler: AROMA - abstract representation of presence for the purpose of mutual awareness. Proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ‘97, Atlanta), ACM Press, April 1997.

Les Nelson, Lia Adams, Satoshi Ichimura, and Elin Rønby Pedersen: Palette: A Paper Interface for Giving Presentations. To appear in the Proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ‘99, Pittsburgh), ACM Press, May 1999.

Elin Rønby Pedersen has been a member of the research staff at FX Palo Alto Laboratory (a Fuji Xerox company) since 1997, working on designing the human-computer interaction such that computers will be easier to use, less intellectually demanding, more immediately available "at hand", and – thereby -- more useful. She has worked on similar issues for quite some time, starting in her PhD thesis which explores the kind of knowledge and know-how we have before we are able to use stricktly defined means of expression, leading to design work on the Xerox Liveboard and the Tivoli whiteboard, and more recently to design of technology for feeding our peripheral awareness. She holds degrees in Nordic Literature and Languages (BA, Aarhus) and Computer Science (MS, PhD, Copenhagen). Till now she divided her working career fairly evenly between industrial research (Danish Datamatic Center, Xerox PARC, Interval Research Corporation, and now FXPAL) and academic research and teaching (Copenhagen University, Copenhagen Business School, Roskilde University).


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