George Fitzmaurice
Adjunct Assistant Professor
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fitzmaurice at


Graspable User Interfaces

This research explores the use of physical artifacts to control, organize and manipulate digital information by offering a hybrid interaction dialog that exploits the affordances of physical artifacts and virtual media.

A Graspable UI design provides users concurrent access to multiple, specialized input devices which can serve as dedicated physical interface widgets, affording physical manipulation and spatial arrangements. Like conventional GUIs, physical devices function as "handles" or manual controllers for logical functions on widgets in the interface. However, the notion of the Graspable UI builds on current practice in a number of ways. With conventional GUIs, there is typically only one graphical input device, such as a mouse. Hence, the physical handle is necessarily "time-multiplexed," being repeatedly attached and unattached to the various logical functions of the GUI. A significant aspect of the Graspable UI is that there can be more than one input device. Hence input control can then be "space-multiplexed." That is, different devices can be attached to different functions, each independently (but possibly simultaneously) accessible. This, then affords the capability to take advantage of the shape, size and position of the physical controller to increase functionality and decrease complexity. It also means that the potential persistence of attachment of a device to a function can be increased.

By using a variety of physical objects we allow users to employ a larger expressive range of gestures and grasping behaviors for human-computer interaction dialogs. Furthermore, this design allows us to leverage off of a user's innate spatial reasoning skills and everyday knowledge of object manipulations.


George W. Fitzmaurice, 1996, Ph.D. thesis, University of Toronto, Graspable User Interfaces.

George W. Fitzmaurice and William Buxton, An empirical evaluation of Graspable User Interfaces,
Proceedings of ACM CHI 1997 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, p. 43-50.

George W. Fitzmaurice, Hiroshi Ishii and William Buxton, Bricks: Laying the foundations for Graspable User Interfaces, Proceedings of ACM CHI 1995 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, p. 442-449.

Published video. Bricks: Laying the foundations for Graspable User Interfaces, CHI'95.
(35 Meg MPEG).

Tangible Media Group at MIT Media Lab.