Digital Interactive Keys

Organization: Human Computer Interaction Lab at UNC-Charlotte | Role: Interaction Designer & Developer | Team: Berto Gonzalez & Dr. Mary Lou Maher (advisor) | Timeline: 3 months

The challenge
Sifteo Cubes - these small tangible computing devices - encourage creativity through allowing exploration in both digital and physical dimensions. You can physically shake them, stack them, and more to interact with the digital content that they hold.
However, Sifteo Cubes are limited by their small screens. In the case of creative composition, it is necessary to see the big picture of the composition, which is not possible solely on Sifteo cubes. Therefore...

how might we augment Sifteo Cubes to provide a way for exploring creations as a whole? 

the solution
Digital Interactive Keys (DiNKs) is a new interaction design that involves both Sifteo Cubes and a tablet, which would provide the space for the composition. allows for localized, digital and physical exploration of the elements of a composition, while still providing a space to see the bigger picture. To further investigate the advantages and limitations of the design, I built a limerick poem creator application called Silly Poems.

Silly Poems is a limerick poem creator application that applies the concept of Digital Interactive Keys, or DInKs.

the process
Exploring the Affordances
By first examining the affordances of Sifteo Cubes and tablets, I evaluated which features of a creating a composition are best supported on the cubes versus the tablet. Because they afford localized interactions, each cube can house a different element of the composition, and the user can explore and learn more about the element by interacting with the cube. The tablet, with its larger screen, can display the composition as a whole and allow the user to control what's on the cubes.
Sifteo Cube Affordances
Small display, Press, Shake, Tilt, Neighbor, Flip
Tablet Affordances
Large display, Touch
visualizing the interaction
Paper Prototype
After deciding on the features, I created a paper prototype to start visualizing what the tablet screen and cubes would look like. I tested the prototype with a few people to see how they interact with the cubes and the tablet. 

The first prototype of the interaction in paper form, with the word elements on the cubes, and the working composition on the tablet. In this iteration, the user can choose which words are displayed on the cubes from the tablet.

During the usability tests, I found that people enjoyed interacting with the cubes more than the tablet. As a result, I decided to remove the feature to see and choose what words are in the system and only dedicate space for the composition on the tablet. Adding this constraint would encourage more focus on the cubes and exploration of the elements.
Wireframes
It was challenging to establish which actions of the application should map to the physical actions that the user performs on the devices. After several rounds of trying out different actions mapped to the cubes, I created a series of wireframes to show what interactions occur on the cubes versus the tablet.
Building a Working Prototype
I programmed the Silly Poems application in C#. With my graduate student advisor's help, we successfully connected the Sifteo cubes and the iPad through TCP/IP. 
Flipping the cube sends the word to the full poem display on the iPad.
Shaking the cube displays a new word.
Pressing on the cube displays different media types of the word (i.e. picture, sounds).
Neighboring multiple cubes together sums up the number of syllables.
main takeaways
• This was my first project working with multiple devices, and it was incredibly satisfying to see the entire limerick poem displayed on the iPad after sending the words from the Sifteo Cubes. Getting the devices to communicate wasn't as bad as I expected - many thanks to my graduate student advisor.

• Right before I fully finished programming Silly Poems, a Girl Scouts troop visited the lab, and as they played with the prototype, the kids loved seeing the words and images from the cubes pop up on the iPad screen.

• It was the first time I really dug deep into interaction design, and I loved the process. Starting with affordances was a big help in making design decisions in this project. I learned how invaluable it was to learn the benefits and shortcomings of a novel interaction design like DiNKs through developing a working application with the design. In the future, usability testing will be crucial in providing information on users’ expectations and potential behaviors.


This project was part of my internship at the Human-Computer Interaction lab at University of North Carolina-Charlotte, under the direction of Dr. Mary Lou Maher.

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