Tangible User Interfaces

CS320 TUI -- Spring 2024

This is a course about the theory and practice of novel human-computer interfaces.

Tangible user interfaces emerge as a novel human-computer interaction style that interlinks the physical and digital worlds.

Extending beyond the limitations of mouse, keyboard, and monitor, tangible user interfaces allow users to interact with digital information by grasping and manipulating physical objects and by making gestures. By allowing users to draw on these natural modes of interaction while interacting with the digital world, tangible user interface can reduce the cognitive load required for performing a computational task, and offer intuitive and collaborative interfaces for learning, problem solving, design, and entertainment. The field of tangible interaction encompasses multidisciplinary knowledge from computer science, engineering, art, and the social sciences.

About CS320 TUI

Learning Goals

The course aims to engage students with the theory and practice of novel human-computer interfaces. Upon completing this course students will be able to:

  • Apply a collaborative iterative process, which includes co-creation with AI and ML models for designing innovative tangible and embodied interfaces.
  • Assess the capabilities and limits of prevalent AI technologies and commonly used models within the context of tangible interaction design.
  • Explain and discuss the conceptual, theoretical, and cognitive foundations for tangible and embodied interaction.
  • Implement a functional prototypes of a novel tangible or embodied interface using various technologies for data processing, sensing, and actuation. Develop AI intuition through experimental and creative exploration of AI technology for prototyping.
  • Debate the strengths and limitations of tangible and embodied interaction. Consider the promise and concerns of co-creation methods for TEI, and contemplate an agenda for researchers and practitioners in the field.

Meet your instructors & tutors



Class Meetings

Mondays and Thursdays @ 2:20 PM- 3:35 PM
in the HCI Lab (SCI L120)


CS220 or CS230, or Permission of instructor.


Textbook, Readings, and Materials

We will be using a new book as well as research papers. The book we will be using is:

Weaving Fire into Form: Aspirations for Tangible and Embodied Interaction by Brygg Ullmer, Orit Shaer, Ali Mazalek, and Caroline Hummles.

The e-book is available through the library. Use this link to access the book.
If you would like to own your own hard copy of the textbook, it is available on Amazon.

While there are no required textbook expenses in this course, there is a small materials fee - students are expected to purchase materials (e.g. art and craft materials) for their projects. The lab will cover all expenses required for purchasing electronic and digital items. If this poses an obstacle or difficulties for you - please talk to the instructor (we can always find a solution).

Course Requirements

The course requires active participation in class through discussion and hands-on lab activities
Students are required to prepare for class by completing the reading prior to lecture.

There are 3 homework assignments in this course that explore conceptual and technical aspects of novel user interfaces.

In addition, the course has a final project that requires students to work in teams to design, and prototype a novel tangible user interface. 
As part of your team project, you will be expected to do the following:

The dates of the assignments, project milestones, and quizzes  are listed on the schedule.

Grading Policy

Your final grade for the course will be computed as a weighted average of several components. The relative weight of each component is shown below:

Your lab submission grade will be determined based on completion; e.g., if you complete and submit 3 out of 4 tasks for a lab, you will receive a 3/4 or 75% on that lab. Homework assignments and project milestonesgrades will be based on grading criteria specified in the description of the assignment.

The mapping from numerical score to letter grade looks like this: >=95 is an A, >=90 is an A-, >=86 is a B+, >=83 is a B, >80 is a B-, >=75 is a C+, >=73 is a C, >=70 is a C-, >=60 is a D, <60 is an F.

Late Assignments

You are encouraged to submit assignments on the requested deadline but you may submit it up to 48h after the deadline. If you need extra time beyond this grace period, it is required that you contact the instructor and discuss a plan for completing the assignment. We will work together to make sure that plan is a reasonable and effective so that it supports both your learning and your health. There are exceptions to this late policy: P2 and P4 will need to be presented in class on the dates specifyed.

Using Generative AI

Aligned with its learning goals, this course encourages students to explore responsible and critical engagement with generative artificial intelligence (GAI) tools such as ChatGPT, DALL·E, Midjourney, Claude and Bard. The use of GAI or AI powered tools is allowed on all assignments as long as students follow this CS320 policy on using GAI.

We draw your attention to the fact that different classes at Wellesley implement different AI policies, and it is the student's responsibility to conform to expectations for each course. Our class policy is consistent with the ACM Publications Policy.


The Wellesley College honor code applies to CS320. This course emphasizes collaboration, as working effectively within teams is an important part of the innovation culture. Working with a team provides you with opportunities to develop and improve interpersonal, communication, leadership, and follower-ship skills. Group assignments and team project are also important for learning integrative skills through the development of a novel user interface.

I strongly encourage you to get to know all of your classmates and to collaborate extensively with them. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of this course, you may be strong in some areas but weak in others. Please share your strengths, and feel free to ask others for help.

Here is a summary of the collaboration policy:

  • In-class activities and discussion: This class requires your active contribution during our time together. Please come to class prepared and ready to contribute to our learning community. During class you will work in group using breakout rooms and other online tools.
  • Assignments: Some parts will be completed individually, others will require collaboration. The instructions will specify the collaboration policy for each task. Project: Teams of 2-3 students work together to complete and submit project milestones. You will be assigned to a team.

Health-related accomodations

If you are ever feeling ill, or if you believe that your being in class might pose a risk to others, please do not come to class. Please be in touch with us at your convenience to let us know what is happening. We will then work with you to help you get back on track *after* you feel better. We also understand that illness may require you to seek an extension (past the automatic 48h-extension) – we can work with each of you individually; please communicate with us early about your need for one.

Slides with lecture notes will always be available online, as will all the activities. Should you have to miss a class, your first resort should be to get the notes from other members. After reviewing these notes and the materials on the course website, feel free to be in touch with us for additional help. We will not record in person lectures.


If you have a disability or condition, either long-term or temporary, and need reasonable academic adjustments in this course, please contact Disability Services to get a letter outlining your accommodation needs, and submit that letter to me. You should request accommodations as early as possible in the semester, or before the semester begins, since some situations can require significant time for review and accommodation design. If you need immediate accommodations, during the semester, please arrange to meet with me as soon as possible. If you are unsure but suspect you may have an undocumented need for accommodations, you are encouraged to contact Disability Services. They can provide assistance including screening and referral for assessments. Disability Services can be reached at disabilityservices@wellesley.edu, at 781-283-2434, by scheduling an appointment online at their website www.Wellesley.edu/disability.

Computing and Laboratory Environment

We will primarily use the following platforms during the course: