Designing for the Crossover

Exploring a Design Space for Building Rich, Alternative Cross-Device Interactions

Designing for the Crossover

HCI Research (Capstone Project)
by Subhankar Das

As our relationship with digital devices becomes more entwined, the need for synergy between these devices, ourselves and the context of use becomes increasingly necessary. This also means that the modes of interaction with these devices has to evolve to enable a more seamless user experience. Designers will have to think beyond the boundaries of individual devices and begin thinking about a heterogeneous, cross-device ecosystem. This project presents a design space to facilitate exploration of rich, alternative experiences for cross-device interactions.

Conceptual diagram showing the role of a design space. The ultimate goal is a broad vision which has informed research in the past and present. The lower arrow signifies progress towards the vision, marked by new ideas and knowledge creation. The sine-wave arrow is the designer moving between existing and new knowledge, while enclosed within the design space

The Design Space
The design space is structured around four dimensions. They are informed by participatory user studies and findings from established research. The framework aims to serve as a tool to guide research in cross-device interactions.

Themes are categories of broadly defined interaction methods. They have been selected by observing patterns in user’s behaviour in cross-device interactions. Novel interaction methods are most likely to emerge from these themes. Additionally, these will serve as a good starting point for beginning a design enquiry. Being envisioned as a design space, this list will keep growing as new knowledge is generated and new findings come to light.

  • Cross-device drag and drop
  • Cross-device direct manipulation
  • Detection and Augmented Reality 
  • Remote Control 
  • Proximity 
  • Gesture 
  • Gaze 
  • Voice Interaction

Movement & Proxemics
These refer to factors that impact and constrain the how data is moved across devices. The focus is primarily on spatial characteristics of the interaction. These factors will often determine if a particular method of interaction is suitable for a given situation. 

Mobility of devices
Refers to relative movability, spatial position and orientation of a device. Smaller devices are typically moved around heavier and larger ones. They are often used to extend the surface area of a larger device (mobile placed parallel to a laptop) or as pointing devices to capture information on larger displays.

Space and distance
Cross-device interactions must occur within a limited distance. Since the user deals with multiple devices simultaneously, it is necessary that any feedback is explicit and immediately perceivable within the user’s activity space.

Data characteristics
The way an data is selected and applied will be determined by the characteristics of the data itself. Different types of data will require different types of methods for selection and application. Selecting a section of text from a website will entail a certain kind of interaction, whereas copying an open image will likely entail another.

Privacy (Ownership and Access)
Refers to factors that pertain to ownership and access of devices. It is crucial to understand that users interact differently with personal devices vis-à-vis non-personal or shared devices.

Evaluating examples for privacy and ownership related qualities.Evaluating examples for privacy and ownership related qualities.

Physicality refers to attributes that add qualities of directness, embodiment and visibility to an interaction modality.

When describing the advantages of a new interaction method, users have repeated reported that it feels better because it is more direct. One implication of this is that people have a natural tendency to engage directly with the object of intention, therefore having a strong intention-action coupling is desirable.

Human perception, thought and experience is embodied. Our behaviour and means of engagement is a result of our bodily capacity. We like to conceptualize abstract concepts in physical terms. Perhaps this is why gesture and direct manipulation based methods are so frequently suggested. Therefore, there is immense value in trying to design experiences that empower this natural human tendency to embody ideas.

Directionality and Visibility
Refers to the transparency in movement and visibility of data. It is important that the user is explicitly made aware of the path the data is taking as it moves from source to target. However, it is also important to know that it is not always desirable to have data be visible in all situations (sensitive data like passwords). Therefore, it is imperative that the context of use is always considered.

Evaluating examples using the physicality scale.

These are some broadly defined desirable qualities/traits that have emerged as common across most user defined solutions. These should be kept in mind as an ideal, while exploring novel cross-device interaction methods.

Interaction needs to be fast, efficient and direct. Input should be simple and feedback should be frequent and explicit, within reason.

Avoid extraneous steps. Reduce intermediate steps. Try to keep the intention-action coupling strong. Form, mobility and spatial characteristics of devices also play a strong role.

Context Awareness
A generally desirable and progressive quality. It is almost a prerequisite for a good cross-device interaction method to work. Awareness of factors like space, social setting, data type and usage patterns are key.

Privacy is more of a check than a quality. It is crucial that every new solution comes back to privacy and evaluates itself before moving forward.

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Subhankar Das 2022