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Computing devices have become ever more present in our everyday environments, however embedding these technologies into our routines has remained a challenge. This book explores the novel theory of peripheral interaction to rectify this. This theory examines how interactive systems can be developed in such a way to allow people to seamlessly interact with their computer devices, but only focus on them at relevant times, building on the way in which people effortlessly divide their attention over several everyday activities in day to day life.

Capturing the current state of the art within the field, this book explores the history and foundational theories of peripheral interaction, discusses novel interactive styles suitable for peripheral interaction, addresses different application domains which can benefit from peripheral interaction and presents visions of how these developments can have a positive impact on our future lives. As such, this book’s aim is to contribute to research and practice in fields such as human-computer interaction, ubiquitous computing and Internet of Things, a view on how interactive technology could be redesigned to form a meaningful, yet unobtrusive part of people’s everyday lives.

Peripheral Interaction will be highly beneficial to researchers and designers alike in areas such as HCI, Ergonomics and Interaction Design.



Chapter 1. Introduction: Framing Peripheral Interaction

In everyday life, we perform several activities in our periphery of attention. For example, we are aware of what the weather is like and we can routinely wash our hands without actively thinking about it. However, we can also easily focus on these activities when desired. Contrarily, interactions with computing devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers, usually require focused attention, or even demand it through flashing displays, beeping sounds, and vibrations used to alert people. Hence, these interactions move more unpredictably between periphery and center of attention compared to non-computer-mediated activities. With the number of computers embedded in our everyday environment increasing, inevitably interaction with these computers will move to the periphery of attention. Inspired by the way we fluently divide our attentional resources over various activities in everyday life, we call this type of interaction “peripheral interaction.” We believe that considering and enabling peripheral interaction with computing technology contributes to more seamlessly embedding of such technology in everyday routines. This chapter briefly explores the history of peripheral interaction as a field of research and lays out how peripheral interaction, in our view, fits into the larger domain of interactive systems and HCI.
Saskia Bakker, Doris Hausen, Ted Selker

Theoretical Perspectives on Peripheral Interaction


Chapter 2. “Unseen, Yet Crescive”: The Unrecognized History of Peripheral Interaction

Peripheral interaction, the reflexive and reactive pre-attentive use of tools and techniques on the periphery of conscious attention, has always been a fundamental part of how humans interact with the world. In fact, it is very likely that our ancestors have been interacting peripherally since well before they were human. In the midst of searching for new paradigms for interaction with the ubiquitous networks of embedded systems that fill our homes and workplaces, it might be a good idea to look at the peripheral tasks we are already performing. Ironically, being on the periphery of our conscious attention, this complex assortment of internal and external interactions has gone largely unnoticed. In this chapter, we use the principles of anthropology-based computing to follow Mark Weiser’s advice and drag these tasks to the center of our attentive focus for a closer examination before deciding whether or not to relegate them once more to the borders of our perception.
John N. A. Brown

Chapter 3. Theories of Focal and Peripheral Attention

Attention has been regarded as the guardian of consciousness. This guardian has several modes of operation, e.g., attention that is guided by external sensory inputs (bottom-up activation) and that which is maintained by internal goals (top-down intention). Attention can be widely dispersed or focused on a single, narrow task. Attention can also be shared between two tasks to some extent, or switched from one focus to another, often more quickly than the eyes can move. One purpose of attention is undoubtedly to maintain a type of alertness for interesting or salient information, such as abrupt changes in the periphery, to which focal attention might be directed. Another purpose of attention is to satisfy one’s need to maintain focus on the task at hand and prevent unwanted intrusions. Clearly, there are trade-offs between attention’s dual roles of preventing interference yet enabling us to respond to important environmental or internal changes that might require a shift of focus. In this way, we should be capable of processing information free from interference when possible, yet also be able to respond appropriately to new information when necessary. The current review covers theories of attention that address its purpose, its limits, and the neurological processes that enable us to perform many tasks relatively effortlessly and successfully despite our individual limitations and the demands of a complicated and variable environment.
James F. Juola

Peripheral Interaction Styles


Chapter 4. Peripheral Tangible Interaction

Much of our everyday interaction in the physical world is peripheral—many of the objects that reside on the periphery of our awareness also require or allow actions in the periphery of our attention, as we briefly touch, handle, move, or avoid them. When these objects are digitally augmented, computational operations extend beyond dedicated display screens and leverage our capacity for occasional and low-attention interactions in the physical world. The research presented in this chapter analyzes this phenomenon of peripheral tangible interaction. Understanding the use qualities of the resulting tangible notations is critical to the design of interfaces aiming to facilitate peripheral interaction. We discuss when and how to design for peripheral tangible interaction based on systematic analyses of user activities and of system qualities. We illustrate both through a case study: the design of ShuffleBoard, a tangible interface for desk work in an office context, in which interactive surfaces and digitally augmented physical tokens support interaction with significant tasks, documents, and people, alongside and concurrently with focal workstation tasks.
Darren Edge, Alan F. Blackwell

Chapter 5. Microgestures—Enabling Gesture Input with Busy Hands

Microgestures, small movements of the digits that do not require moving the whole hand, are a promising input technique for peripheral interaction as they can be executed in parallel to many manual actions. Such interaction techniques can be used to augment or to extend everyday tasks, and therefore, have the great potential to enable interacting with busy hands as peripheral activity. For example, tipping a digit at a steering wheel while driving could be used for automotive control without requiring too much manual motor effort that might decrease the steering performance. Moreover, smart objects that are held in the hand can be controlled through tiny grasp modifications. This chapter describes relevant aspects of microinteractions. After explaining the motivation and value of microgestures in existing use cases, an overview on technology that allows for detecting microgestures is provided. Then the design of ergonomic microgestures that allow for being executed as peripheral action is explained. Finally, requirements that allow or permit the user to interrupt the primary task for interacting in the cognitive periphery through microgestures are presented and appropriate applications are discussed.
Katrin Wolf

Chapter 6. Casual Interaction—Moving Between Peripheral and High Engagement Interactions

In what we call the focused-casual continuum, users pick how much control they want to have when interacting. Through offering several different ways for interaction, such interfaces can then be more appropriate for, e.g., use in some social situations, or use when exhausted. In a very basic example, an alarm clock could offer one interaction mode where an alarm can only be turned off, while in another, users can choose between different snooze responses. The first mode is more restrictive but could be controlled with one coarse gesture. Only when the user wishes to pick between several responses, more controlled and fine interaction is needed. Low control, more casual interactions can take place in the background or the periphery of the user, while focused interactions move into the foreground. Along the focused-casual continuum, a plethora of interaction techniques have their place. Currently, focused interaction techniques are often the default ones. In this chapter, we thus focus more closely on techniques for casual interaction, which offer ways to interact with lower levels of control. Presented use cases cover scenarios such as text entry, user recognition, tangibles, or steering tasks. Furthermore, in addition to potential benefits from applying casual interaction techniques during input, there is also a need for feedback which does not immediately grab our attention, but can scale from the periphery to the focus of our attention. Thus, we also cover several such feedback methods and show how the focused-casual continuum can encompass the whole interaction.
Henning Pohl

Chapter 7. Fluent Transitions Between Focused and Peripheral Interaction in Proxemic Interactions

Proxemic interaction is a vision of computing that employs proxemic relationships to mediate interaction between people and ensembles of various digital devices. In this chapter, we focus on aspects of peripheral interaction in proxemic interactions. We illustrate how to facilitate transitions between interaction outside the attentional field, the periphery, and the center of attention by means of the Proxemic Flow peripheral floor display. We summarize and generalize our findings into two design patterns: slow-motion feedback and gradual engagement. We propose slow-motion feedback as a way to draw attention to actions happening in the background and provide opportunities for intervention, while gradual engagement provides peripheral awareness of action possibilities and discoverability and reveals possible future interactions.
Jo Vermeulen, Steven Houben, Nicolai Marquardt

Peripheral Interaction in Context


Chapter 8. Peripheral Displays to Support Human Cognition

The availability of tools greatly determines the effectiveness of people. While some of us may be genuinely good at maths, calculators can extend our capabilities significantly. Tools in general empower people: both physically and mentally. In this chapter, we explore the feasibility and design space of using displays in the periphery of people’s attention as a tool to augment the human intellect. By embedding displays into home and office environments, these peripheral displays create stimulating environments and display personal content with the goal of supporting people’s cognition and memory. In this chapter, we describe how we envision such displays to strengthen episodic memory, boost people’s productivity, and support learning tasks based on concepts from the field of cognitive psychology. By using context awareness through sensors, such systems can be designed to look for opportune moments for content delivery in order to keep attention switches at minimum costs and therefore live up to the promise of ‘calm computing.’
Tilman Dingler, Albrecht Schmidt

Chapter 9. Peripheral Interaction in Desktop Computing: Why It’s Worth Stepping Beyond Traditional Mouse and Keyboard

When computers entered our workplaces and other areas of our everyday life, many of the opportunities to use our physical abilities diminished. The macromonotony of large movements in, e.g., line production has become the micromonotony of small movements in computer-based office work. At the same time, looking at our everyday activities that do not involve technology, we naturally make use of our perception and motor abilities and continually interact with our surroundings. Our research has thus focused on achieving similar fluidness in our interactions with the digital world. While traditional desktop work usually involves controlling computers by pressing buttons, dropping menus, and sliding bars, we invite users to act with their physical surroundings, i.e., furniture embodied as handles to actions in the digital world. Based on our research on peripheral embodied interaction through smart furniture and insights from related research, we provide a conceptual overview of the seemingly minor, yet accumulatively powerful, benefits that this interaction style can provide as additional input dimension in desktop settings.
Kathrin Probst

Chapter 10. Peripheral Interaction with Light

Light has a profound impact on the human body. Visually, light determines what aspects of our surroundings we can perceive and interpret. Non-visually, light contributes to regulating our physiology and psychology. Light is thus an unusual medium that can work both in and out of our conscious attention, and with new lighting technology this aspect is falling within our control. Computer controllable solid-state lighting has advanced such that they are now a commonplace technology in the world around us. While many of the characteristics of light-emitting diode (LED) lighting must fulfill the same requirements as lighting in the past, the ability to readily integrate LED technology into digital control systems presents exciting new opportunities that were not possible with other artificial light sources; for example, the potential to integrate the small form factor of an LED into the very fabric of a material or control them remotely over the Internet are aspects that set this technology apart from what has gone before. This unprecedented flexibility presents the opportunity for new functionality and novel interactive solutions for and with light. In this chapter, we present three categories of interactive lighting with many concrete examples: interacting with light at the center of our attention, interacting with light outside our attentional field, and interacting with light in the periphery of our attention. We conclude by considering the factors that make lighting a special medium for peripheral interaction and the role peripheral interaction can play in exposing the many new degrees of freedom ubiquitous digital lighting presents.
Dzmitry Aliakseyeu, Bernt Meerbeek, Jon Mason, Remco Magielse, Susanne Seitinger

Visions on the Future of Peripheral Interaction


Chapter 11. Interactive Soundscapes of the Future Everyday Life

This chapter reviews the inherent qualities of the human hearing system to focus on sounds that are relevant and ignore sounds that are irrelevant and do not require immediate action. Currently, auditory interaction styles that have been proposed and studied in human–computer interaction fail to leverage these human auditory perception capabilities to their full potential. This chapter envisions interactive soundscapes that, based on the capabilities of the human hearing system, offer direct but imprecise interaction control and provide people with explicit means to subconsciously yet intentionally control the shifting of activities back and forth to the periphery of their attention. Technological challenges in the area of advanced audio technology as well as social and ethical dilemmas that relate to interactive soundscapes becoming part of people’s natural habitats are discussed. Interactive soundscapes can be considered one of the promising future design research areas where true peripheral interaction can be realized.
Berry Eggen

Chapter 12. Weaving Peripheral Interaction Within Habitable Architectures

As researchers and practitioners seek to operationalize peripheral interaction, many key questions remain unresolved. Where might such technologically mediated interventions best be deployed? What might they look like? How might such deployments age and evolve through time? Toward engaging these questions, one path is to consider related exemplars from centuries past and use these to inform forward-looking prototypes and envisionments. With an eye toward the future of peripheral interaction and as description of our particular trajectory, we begin by reflecting on early “tangible bits” peripheral interaction experiences. We follow these with ancient examples from the walls of Lascaux, Ur, and Babylon. Drawing from these inspirations, we illustrate and discuss three grounding envisionments upon the halls and walls of habitable spaces.
Brygg Ullmer, Alexandre Siqueira, Chris Branton, Miriam K. Konkel
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