An Alternative Desktop : BumpTop Prototype

Anand Agarawala and Ravin Balakrishnan of the University of Toronto have put a really interesting alternative approach to a virtual desktop. The BumpTop is a desktop where the information assets take on real-world characteristics. Users can pile, scrunch, fold and organize items just as they do physical objects on their desktop. Quicktime and Windows Media movie demos of the prototype are available. There’s also a PDF white paper on the rationale behind the BumpTop prototype.
I think Anand and Ravin are onto something here. It is far easier to leverage our knowledge of the physical world and all it’s characteristic when creating interfaces. While icons and actions like drag-and-drop surely help, the metaphor often breaks down. With this prototype, they’re taking the metaphor to a new, far more realistic level.
Over a year ago, I gave a talk at the IA Summit around an alternative methodology for interface and information design called Information Objects. The driver behind that approach is similar to the rationale behind a prototype like BumpTop. In short, we are experts at manipulating the objects in the physical world. Why not leverage that expertise when creating interfaces? A PDF on Information Objects is available for download here.
It’s also worth noting that, for a long time, there was a technology barrier to these types of interfaces that we’re just now overcoming. Cheaper, more powerful processing power is now available to handle the graphics and physics demands of such interfaces.

2 Comments An Alternative Desktop : BumpTop Prototype

  1. Scott Janousek

    … I think this would be one exciting usability study to put together for sure.
    Is the average consumer ready for something like this? I would think so. I’m sure we’ll hear more about this.
    What about integrating RFID into the OS … effectively combining a real physical desktop with the virtual one … someone on MXNA had done the RFID prototype of this … these dudes should knock heads … not to mention, combining it with a nice interactive touchscreen.
    All this would be quite an interesting user experience.


    until you have a working model to download, this is like talking about sex. it’s worthless talk. let us use a simple working version and we’ll see if it’s any good.


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