Bridging the gap between material science and human-computer interaction

Isabel P S Qamar, Rainer Groh, David Holman, Anne Roudaut

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

6 Citations (Scopus)


Many interactive devices such as laptops and mobile phones currently have static, planar shapes that are arguably not particularly adapted to the user. Recent developments in display and material technologies have enabled explorations into morphing devices that can provide improved affordances for human interaction. From interactive spherical displays, to mobile phones that bend to notify a user of an incoming call, to pneumatic interfaces that expand to become exoskeletons or couches, there are many recent examples of shaped interface design. This transition from flat, planar shapes to morphing interfaces requires human-computer interaction (HCI) practitioners to learn about and adapt the advances made in material science and quickly apply them to shaped devices in an accessible manner.

The implementation of shape-adaptive interactive systems within HCI, however, is still far from having been achieved. The tools and methods that could have a significant impact on developing such systems tend to be confined to their industries (e.g., automotive or aerospace), are expensive, and are designed to support large-scale systems, making them inaccessible to researchers who have little to no expertise in material engineering. These industries’ approach to product design also tends to differ in some obvious ways from that of HCI. For example, manufacturability is of significant importance to material engineers, with products often going through many design and development cycles with stringent requirements before entering production. This can often span years, or even decades. In contrast, HCI researchers have much shorter time frames to develop low-fidelity proof-of-concept prototypes, where human interaction, both physical and those involving cognition and perception, require particular consideration. This difference in approach and requirements is a significant factor in the disparity between these fields. A key question remains: How can the methods and processes in material science be harnessed by HCI researchers?

Here we discuss how the evolving relationship between HCI and material science can be framed and why synergies between the two fields are critical for the design of shape-changing devices. Our goal is to create a road map for designers who want to learn more about advances in material science and use them for the design of shape-changing interfaces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-69
Number of pages5
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

The acceptance date for this record is provisional and based upon the month of publication for the article.

Structured keywords

  • Bristol Composites Institute ACCIS


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