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Master’s Program Tangible Interfaces: the Main Lines

Master’s Program Tangible Interfaces: the Main Lines

T. Lehmann, Course Leader for the Master’s Program Tangible Interfaces describes the ins and outs of this discipline at the crossroads between product design, spatial design, interaction design and virtual reality…


WIC, interactive wine cellar, by Romain Bourrée

Over the last decades, our society has gone progressed way more significantly than during the past centuries.

From the birth of our civilization to the late 19th century, our world used to be ruled by physical and concrete measuring units; distances were for the most part appraised by the human or animal eye, and time flew by following the sun’s daily route.

However in the course of the 20th century these space-time-related notions were totally shaken by tremendous technological advancement: evolution in transportation, (planes, high-speed trains...), birth of communication networks (telephones, Internet, global computer coverage…); in a word our environment was on the verge of "going virtual."

The widespread use of data processing and related applications (office automation, CAP, CAD, at work, at home, for leisurely or cultural activities and games) played a part in triggering these mutations.

More recently technological advancements (miniaturization, for instance…) paved the way to new fields by prompting users to keep interacting even when moving. As familiar objects and our whole environment are being computerized (pervasive computing), new uses, new practices and new behavior patterns are taking shape.


However do human beings really feel like it? Have they been prepared for this? Those new tools have often been criticized for being to abstract, for favoring individual over collective thinking and for gradually toning down our sensory qualities.

meta}{meta Project by Goulven Briantais

What is a tangible interface?

A tangible interface can be described as a tool for handling digital data directly and physically, as an artefact to represent digital data and have control over them. Tangible interfaces aim to materialize the digital flow, the way interactions and uses are perceived.

Today in 2010, we have reached a new technology-augmented vision of the world that gives us the ability to distance ourselves from technology itself to try new sensory, emotional and cognitive experiences.

According to Gilles Lipovetsky (sociologist, philosophy professor), "as the cyber-world, new types of sociability, sensuality and sensory are emerging. The human being disembodied by technics and cyberspace won’t come to life before 2030. The more you create immaterial matter, the more individuals will try and restore some kind of balance."

A user-centered discipline, design can analyze these sociotrends and make sense out of them to reshape our environment, our relationships, our network (products, services, infrastructures).

Immersive Rail Shooter by David Arenou

Design triggers new modes of psychotechnical interactions, new ergonomic or behavioral postures. Our abilities to act and perceive are multiplied, augmented, an upgraded world is gradually being outlined.

Interface designers must coin a new visual language, evolved from the genes of this new "intelligent" and communicative object, a fusion between the tangible and digital worlds.

Today, this type of technology has already gained a foothold in our the items we use on a daily basis (smartphones, interactive tables, video games, books, furniture, means of transportation or buildings).

Tangible interfaces do facilitate co-design, collaborative works, skill sharing, since skills are ceaselessly increased by networking people and multiplied by their machines.

This technological evolution raises a number of social and cultural issues as well as issues related to individual liberty and public health.



Bobi - interactive kit for festival-goers - by Nicolas Cloarec

In 2009-2010, about 15 enthusiastic students have enrolled in the Master’s program Tangible Interfaces. They have been carrying out projects linked with a wide variety of fields such as health, co-design (customer-architect), sustainable development, video games, events, mobility (tourism, bikes, motorbikes).

This curriculum aims to intertwine and cross-breed several disciplines: product design, spatial design, interaction design, virtual reality.

Designer is a profession bound to go through tremendous mutations in the near future. Indeed visual and material design has now begun to converse with the immaterial.

A number of specific design-related professions will have to feed from each other for a new mode of creation to come to life and be organized.

Thierry Lehmann

Head of the Research Unit Tangible Interfaces