Casual Interfaces

Exploring playful IoT at the London Design Festival.

25.09.15 | Research

By Jon Rogers

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Uniform will be showing Casual Interfaces at the V&A Digital Design Weekend during London Design Festival. Digital Futures UKMX is a collaborative prototyping showcase on the themes of civic awareness, collaboration and innovation from Mexico City and Dundee. You can read more about our project below, or if you’d rather, come speak to us in the V&A and we’ll tell you about it ourselves - we’d love to hear your thoughts. You can find us in the Learning Centre Lunchroom Saturday the 26th and Sunday the 27th, 10.30-17.00.

Casual interfaces have always existed. They take many forms and evolve constantly, shifting meaning across cultures, ages and personal interpretation. From a knock at the door or a wave from a train window to the roar of a crowd, all of these say something. But what?

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A knock at the door might be the postman with a birthday present; it may also be an aggressive political canvasser. It might be the dad who’s forgotten his keys. A wave from a train might be a heart-breaking goodbye or long awaited hello. A collective roar can be in horror or delight.

We wanted to explore how the Internet of Things (IoT) could harness casual interfaces to provide informal ways for people to communicate across distance.

We came up with Casual Interfaces: a series of three prototypes intending to explore the digitisation of these interactions.


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A casual interface doesn’t attempt to tell you what to think about its simple actions.

There are no instructions, user guide or translation for casual interfaces. They are deliberately ambiguous expressions of connectivity, to be played with rather than ‘used’. It’s for you to make of it what you will. Casually.

Casual Interfaces was inspired by our recent collaboration with the British Council in Mexico, where we became interested in exploring informal ways to connect people over large distances. Although born from the hack event we participated in at the Centro de Cultura Digital, this project also addressed a pragmatic problem that we were facing in connecting our London and Liverpool offices.

Electronic Wave explores how we can transmit a physical wave over the web. Simple light detecting elements capture a person waving and replay this mechanically somewhere else.

Knock Knock is a device for knocking on a virtual door. Capturing the personal rhythm of your physical tapping, Knock Knock sends it to another place where anyone present can both see and hear your knock.

Background Noise captures the ambient sound in one place and plays it back as movement in another. A sound wave becomes a physical wave running along a wire. The louder the background noise, the greater the amplitude of the wave.

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Casual interfaces can have mundane or extreme interpretations. When conducting a background search of the meaning of door knocks we discovered that one of the most popular knocks in the UK, ‘dum da da dum dum - dum dum’  (known musically as ‘Shave and a haircut. Two bits’), has a very offensive meaning in Mexico - so offensive that we’re not going to write it here. Let’s just say that if you get a horn beep in this pattern in Mexico City, they’re not causally saying hello…

With Apple Watch’s Taptic Engine technology promoting and enabling new forms of haptic interface, casual interactions are set to become widespread in mainstream interaction design. Thanks to IoT, interaction design is not only going to sit on our wrists, but find its way into our workplaces, homes and lives, in new, disruptive and thought-provoking ways.

Check back in with us after London Design Festival to hear what we learned from our conversations around Casual Interfaces.


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