Enter the Circle: Playful Interaction for Public Spaces

The display is situated within a circle of interactive boxes.

The display is situated within a circle of interactive boxes.

This week at the University of Glasgow, passers-by may have seen a mysterious installation in the walkway between the Boyd Orr and the Sir Alwyn Williams Building.  The installation involves a spherical touch sensitive display and eight interactive boxes filled with coloured light.  The display is encircled by a ring made up of these boxes.  Passers-by must enter the circle to touch the display and explore the installation’s interactivity.

Each box can be controlled by interacting with the sphere.

Each box can be controlled by interacting with the sphere.

The installation explores issues of playfulness in public spaces, environmental control, and discovery of interactivity.  We have placed the installation in this public space in order to understand how passers-by engage with an unknown interface in a public space, what they do when confronted with something playful in nature, and how they explore its capabilities.

This work comes from a five month collaboration between the University of Glasgow and Pufferfish Ltd in Edinburgh.  The project revolves around understanding how novel display form factors influence how these displays are used in public spaces.


Dr. Julie R. Williamson, University of Glasgow
Dr. John Williamson, University of Glasgow
Daniel Sundén, Product Designer
Dr. Jay Bradley, Pufferfish Ltd
Ben Allan, Pufferfish Ltd.

Mobile Social Signal Processing – Capturing Performative Input

This week, I published an article in LNCS Mobile Social Signal Processing that describes using performative actions as input in mobile settings.  I had never focused on social signal processing in my work until Alessandro came to the University of Glasgow and I realised there was some interesting overlap in multimodal interaction design and social signal processing.

So here is my first article looking at social signal processing for performative interaction.

Capturing Performative Actions for Interaction and Social Awareness

Abstract: Capturing and making use of observable actions and behaviours presents compelling opportunities for allowing end-users to interact with such data and eachother. For example, simple visualisations based on on detected behaviour or context allow users to interpret this data based on their existing knowledge and awarness of social cues. This paper presents one such “remote awareness” application where users can interpret a visualization based on simple behaviours to gain a sense of awareness of other users’ current context or actions. Using a prop embedded with sensors, users could control the visualisation using gesture and voice-based input. The results of this work describe the kinds of performances users generated during the trial, how they imagined the actions of their fellow participants based on the visualisation, and how the props containing sensors were used to support, or in some cases hinder, successful performance and interaction.

Celtic Connections Installation with Pufferfish Ltd

1016359_10102296579687751_325721798_nAs part of my current project, I am working with Pufferfish Ltd to evaluate spherical displays in public spaces.  One of our exciting installations combines my research and my love of Scottish music.  We’re working with Celtic Connections to install the PufferSphere display in the concert hall for the whole opening weekend of the festival.  It’s an exciting place to be and also my first public engagement since starting my SICSA Fellowship.  It’s been a wild ride but we’ve pulled it off with style.

The official news item…

Computer scientists plan to make Celtic Connection with global project

Visitors to the 21st Celtic Connections festival will have the chance to hold the world in their hands at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall from today (Thursday 16 January).

Researchers from the University of Glasgow’s School of Computing Science have teamed up with Edinburgh-based display developer Pufferfish Ltd to create an eye-catching illuminated globe which will provide information on 25 of the festival’s top acts.

Celtic Connections globe

Celtic Connections image

A computer-controlled display will project a high-resolution image of a world map onto the 600-mm spherical display’s touch-sensitive surface. Users can ‘spin’ the image, which is marked with the locations of artists’ home cities, and tap on artists’ names to find out more about their work and festival gigs.

In addition to providing an unusual source of useful information to Concert Hall visitors, a set of small cameras placed around the display will provide the research team with feedback on their reactions.

Research associate Dr Julie Williamson, who led the project, said: “This is the result of four months of work to develop the content to show on the PufferSphere display and determine how we could best measure visitors’ responses.

“We’re really interested in finding out more about how technology influences pedestrian traffic in public spaces, a process we call performative interaction. We want to know how long people spend at the display and whether they use it alone or in groups. We wanted to get involved with Celtic Connections because it attracts so many visitors from around the world and we were delighted when they agreed to help.

“We’re planning to continue our research with another public display at the University campus next month.”

Dr Williamson worked on the project with product designer Daniel Sundén and Pufferfish Ltd’s software manager Dr Jay Bradley and sales and marketing manager Ben Allan.


News Release:  http://www.gla.ac.uk/news/headline_302743_en.html


Software Engineering IT – First Lecture

Teams must complete a tower design challenge given limited supplies.

Teams must complete a tower design challenge given limited supplies.

This year I am teaching Software Engineering IT, a masters level software engineering course for students without a previous background in computing science.  This is the first course I have ever taught, and I wanted to bring some of my defining experiences at UC Irvine across to my teaching here at Glasgow.  I was amazingly fortunate to take Software Engineering with André van der Hoek, where I was taught software engineering from a design perspective.  This perspective was core to André’s teaching, and I hope I’ve done it justice here and helped spread this mantra that I stand behind.  Although I have now gone off the HCI and sociology deep end, software engineering was one of my favourite topics as an undergrad and André’s course contributed to my love of research and creativity in my work.

For the first lecture of the class, I wanted to drive home some important points about creativity and problem solving in software engineering.  During the lecture, the class was split into teams to participate in a tower building challenge.
An intermediate design for a tower.

An intermediate design for a tower.

The Challenge

Design the tallest possible tower given the materials.

Your tower must be able to support the weight of one large tub of Play-Doh.

Tower will be judged based on functionality (does it support weight?), height, and beauty.

The teams were left with 25 minutes to design and build the best tower possible.  However, the lecture was grounded on some important software engineering concepts that I wanted to highlight with our towers.

Duck Tape?  

I asked the students if they would’ve built better towers if I provided them with the duck tape I had in my box of tricks.  In software engineering, that duck tape is like the library or framework you might have not been aware of or chosen not to use.  In the tower, not using the duck tape as a tool seems silly. In software engineering, use of appropriate tools and frameworks makes an even bigger difference.

What do Towers Look Like?

I also challenged assumptions and design decisions in the tower process to highlight the importance of good requirements.  I changed the challenge at the end by asking for a tower that could suspend from the ceiling.  How many of the designs would still work? What about if when I said tower I really meant bridge?  Would you simply turn the tower sideways as say “this is a bridge” or would you start with a new design?  I wanted to demonstrate that we often re-purpose software and use it in ways it’s not intended because we can, but this leads to lots of headaches down the line.  You wouldn’t just repurpose the tower when it obviously wasn’t fit for purpose, and we shouldn’t do that with software either.  I also touched on the idea that a good tower design might support re-use and extension more easily, which leads to…

Design Patterns for Towers

Towers have design patterns as much a software does.  I demonstrated a simple construction technique for the towers to show the students how much a proven design pattern can improve your final product.  Thus far, I think the best joint for tower building given our material set is to place two dowels end to end, wrap tightly with paper, and secure down with a small amount of Play-Doh.  After showing this technique, we discussed how it might make much stronger and taller towers.  Again, I asked if the students would just augment their design or start fresh given the new knowledge.  Towers have design pattern and so does software, and we’ll be learning and applying them in this course.

I tried to use the tower not only to give a flavour for the level a creativity and reflection I expect during the class, but also to show some hopefully compelling examples of why the intangible or difficult to visualise software pitfalls are important to address in the software engineering process.  I think I am going to really enjoy my first semester of teaching.

Some of the Final Results

A tower with a flag and a plaza.

A tower with a flag and a plaza.

It turns out that adding “Beauty/Creativity” as one of the tower judging criteria led to some very interesting designs.

A tower with circular paper adornments.

A tower with circular paper adornments.

An interesting shape in the middle of the tower.

An interesting shape in the middle of the tower.

A short but strong tower.

A short but strong tower.


















Special thanks to André van der Hoek and Alex Baker who not only first exposed me to software engineering as design at UCI in 2006 but who also guided and supported me while preparing for this course.

ICMI2013 – Mo!Games: evaluating mobile gestures in the wild

One of the apps was a mobile game where users had to toss marshmallows onto a target using gestures.

One of the apps was a mobile game where users had to toss marshmallows onto a target using gestures.

This year I attended ICMI 2013 in Sydney, Australia. I presented our full length paper entitled Mo!Games: evaluating mobile gestures in the wild. The paper describes an in the wild study of a mobile application that uses head, wrist, and device-based gestures. The goal of the study was to explore how users performed gesture-based interaction in their everyday lives and how they developed preferences for different gesture styles.

Abstract: The user experience of performing gesture-based interactions in public spaces is highly dependent on context, where users must decide which gestures they will use and how they will perform them. In order to complete a realistic evaluation of how users make these decisions, the evaluation of such user experiences must be completed “in the wild.” Furthermore, studies need to be completed within different cultural contexts in order to understand how users might adopt gesture differently in different cultures. This paper presents such a study using a mobile gesture-based game, where users in the UK and India interacted with this game over the span of 6 days. The results of this study demonstrate similarities between gesture use in these divergent cultural settings, illustrate factors that influence gesture acceptance such as perceived size of movement and perceived accuracy, and provide insights into the interaction design of mobile gestures when gestures are distributed across the body.

Download the Paper

SoCShop: An Electronics Workshop in the School of Computing Science

Welcome to the SoCShop!  Our brand new space for electronics prototyping is open for business in the School of Computing Science.  In the Lilybank Gardens Room F102, you’ll find a variety if resources ready to support research in the School of Computing Science.

organizer.10 copy

The SoCShop has a good assortment of components available for electronics projects, such as LEDs, jumpers, sockets, pins, and clips. We have a full range of resisters and capacitors, as well as a reasonable selection of diodes. We also have a variety of commonly used integrated circuits (ICs). A small selection of breadboards are also available.

solder.53 copy Need to solder something? The SoCShop has everything you need to get started. Two ERSA RDS80 soldering stations are available to use, along with all the necessary accessories, including solder, flux, desolder braid and pumps and helping hands. Workshops and training are available if you are interested in learning how to solder. Visit the workshop for more details.

desk.39 copy The SoCShop has two workspaces where you can spread out and get things working. The first workspace is a large standing desk fitted with an ERSA soldering station, desktop power supply, oscilloscope, and portable multimeter. Mains power is also available at this workstation. Tools and supplies, such as side cutters, pliers, veroboards, wires, and soldering supplies are all available at this workspace.

2013-07-03 16.06.01 Our desktop power supply offers two flexible power outputs with an additional 5V outlet.

desk.14 copy The second workspace offers a flexible space to work. This desk is fitted with an ERSA soldering station.

The SoCShop also has a variety of random tools and helpful stuff available, such as heat shrink materials and heat gun, a hot glue gun, and network toolkit. So come by and have a look at all the resources that are available.

Send any questions or comments along to Julie at Julie.Williamson@glasgow.ac.uk. Join the SoCShop Mailing List to keep up to date about the workshop.

An Unusual Training Session

2013-04-27 11.04.40 In my effort to keep up my training during CHI 2013, I completed my long run today along the Seine River. Accidentally ran into a few landmarks along the way. I started near the conference center going towards to the Arc de Triomphe.





2013-04-27 11.11.50

From there I headed down Champs-Élysées. The was the best part of the run because it was a gentle downhill slope the whole way.







2013-04-27 11.25.51

Caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower from the other side of the water.  Notice the lovely springtime weather in Paris this week.






2013-04-27 11.48.08

Crossed over the water along “lover’s bridge” at the 4 mile point but forgot maths and and geometry and headed in a triangular trail which would end up being more than 8 miles (I had just completed the hypotenuse of my run).





2013-04-27 12.20.02 Took a victory lap around the base of the Eiffel tower and headed home thinking of lunch! Ended up being roughly 10 miles all told, at a terrible pace due to the constant stopping/starting for traffic and sightseeing.  But it was important to just get out there and run!

This training is all going towards the half marathon in Edinburgh this May.  I’m running the half in memory of my mother for the Bowl Cancer UK Charity.  Donate and become part of an excellent cause!

Visit My JustGiving Page


Work in Progress and Workshop Papers at CHI 2013

This year at CHI I will be presenting a work in progress and attending the “Experiencing Interactivity in Public Places” workshop.


My work in progress presentation discusses work I completed on the MultiMemoHome Project with my colleagues Marilyn McGee-Lennon, Euan Freeman, and Stephen Brewster. This paper describes the co-design of a smartpen and paper calendar-based reminder system for the home. The design sessions involved older adults and used experience prototypes. We completed these co-design sessions with older adults in order to explore the possibility of exploiting paper-based calendars for multimodal reminders systems using a smartpen. The initial results demonstrate successful interaction techniques that make a strong link between paper interaction and scheduling reminders, such as using smartpen annotations and using the location of written reminders within a paper diary to schedule digital reminders. The results also describe important physical aspects of paper diaries as discussed by older adults, such as daily/weekly layouts and binding. Full Paper

2012-12-04 17.20.14

My position paper for the EIPS workshop discusses my current work as a SICSA Fellow in Multimodal Interaction at Glasgow University. When interactive systems require users to “perform” in front of others, the experience of interacting dramatically changes. This “performative” dynamic can be purposefully exploited in the design and evaluation of interactive systems to create compelling experiences. In this work, I explore these issues using highly flexible low-resolution displays composed of strips of individually addressable LED lights. These low-resolution displays can take a wide variety of forms and can be deployed in many different settings. I pair these displays with depth sensors to add playful interactivity, whole body interaction, and proxemic interaction. Such a combination of flexible output and depth-based input can be used for a variety of playful and creative interfaces. In this paper, I describe some of the most promising directions made possible using this technology, such as ambient interfaces that create playful reactive experiences, visualize pedestrian traffic, and highlight social dynamics. Full Paper