Tangible User Interfaces

CS320 TUI -- Fall 2020

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 the computer mouse, keyboard and monitor, Tangible user interfaces allow users to interact with digital information through grasping and manipulating physical objects, and through gestures. By allowing users to draw on their natural skills for interacting with digital information, tangible user interface could reduce the cognitive load required for performing a computetional task, and offer an intuitive and collbaorative interface to support activities such as learning, problem solving, design, and entertainment. The field of tangible interaction encompasses multidisciplinary knowledge including from computer science, engineering, art, and 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:

  • Novel UI technologies - Implement functional prototypes of non-WIMP (window, icon, memu, pointer) interfaces using various new technologies for data processing, touch and gesture recognition, sensing and actuation.
  • Design Thinking - Apply an iterative process to identify needs and construct innovative solutions.
  • Conceptual and cognitive foundations- Explain how tangible interaction relate to other emerging human-computer interaction styles, identify design dimensions, and discuss the cognitive foundations for this interaction paradigm.
  • Teamwork and project management - Work effectively with a small team on a semester-long project, while utilizing collaboration and project management tools.
  • Critical thinking - Debate the strengths and limitations of tangible user interfaces. Consider a future agenda for researchers and practionairs in the field.

Meet your instructors & tutors



Class Meetings

This is a synchronous online course. Our class will meet through the Zoom online conference system.

International students who cannot join our regular class due to a time difference, are expected to attend the Zoom discussion group instead.

For everyone’s benefit, join the course in a quiet place, use earphones, turn on your video, mute your microphone unless you are speaking. We will adopt the same rules and norms as in a physical classroom: take notes, raise your hand to participate by asking and answering questions.

To protect your privacy, please follow these rules when using Zoom:

  • The instructor will email you a link to a zoom meeting and a password. Do not share this information with anyone.
  • In general, lectures and discussions will not be recorded.
  • When lectures will be recorded, students will be notified, both in the beginning of the lecture and in written notation on the course schedule.
  • Before turning on the camera be aware of people and items in the background. Before sharing your screen make sure you do not share private or sensitive information.


Mondays and Thursdays 1:00pm-3:45pm (EDT)

Mondays and Thursdays 8:00pm-9:00pm (EDT) discussion group (for international students)  


CS220 or CS230, or Permission of instructor.


  • Introduction to tangible and embodied interaction
  • Application domains
  • Conceptual framworks and taxonomies
  • Cognitive foundations
  • Gestural interfaces
  • Mixed-Reality Interaction 
  • Physical computing: microcontrollers, sensors, and actuators
  • Rapid prototyping
  • Iterative design techniques

Textbook, Readings, and Materials

We will be using a new (currently in press) book as well as research papers. All materials will be available in the course e-reserve Google drive, 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.

While there are no text book expenses in this course, there is an equivalent materials fee - students are expected to purchase materials (e.g. art and craft materials, sensors, wires) for their projects. 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 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, implement and evaluate a tangible user interface. 
As part of your team project, you will be expected to do the following:

  • Develop a conceptual design for a new tangible user interface
  • Build the tangible user interface you have designed. This is an iterative process in which you will re-design, build, and evaluate several times.
  • Document your tangible user interface with pictures, video, diagrams, and text in a public web page.
  • Present the tangible user interfave you have built in the course virtual open house.
  • Reflect on your own learning and contributions to the project.

There will be 3 in-class quizzes.

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:

  • Assignments: 30%
  • Quizzes (in-class): 30% (will drop lowest quiz score)
  • Group project: 35%
  • Class Participation: 5%
  • Total: 100%

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 (weekends and holidays counting in total as one 24h period). 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.


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.
  • Quizzes: Absolutely no collaboration.


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: