Digital Powertools – Master Thesis

The Opener
The Opener

During my master thesis, I designed a complete set of tools for use on an interactive tabletop computer for use with the whole range of different applications for a true general purpose computer.

The Creator
The Creator
The Backtracker
The Backtracker
The Designator
The Designator

Digital Powertools

Interactive desks or tabletop computers with tangible interactive devices, a classic science fiction theme, and in interaction design research a common subject. Even commercially some companies have started producing these device for niche markets.

So why are we not all using these devices? Well, part of the reason is how they are used. Because designing a product to be as universal as a desktop computer is hard, most tabletop computers were designed for very specific applications. But in order to make the tabletop computer into a universal device that’s useful for more people, you would need many different applications, which as it stands would mean a lot of different tools that can only be used in very specific applications.

But what if we take all these applications, and see what they have in common? Instead of looking from an application level, let’s look at the actions that are the same. Doing your budgeting in excel, might not seem to have a lot in common with photo editing, but they have a lot in coming. First you open your files, or you create new ones. Then you navigate through those files, and make any changes you need. Then you might delete certain aspects, or need to go back to an older version.

Looking at these common actions, we can group them into a coherent set of activities, and turn them into a common set of tools, called Digital Powertools.

  • Creator – A tool designed to create new digital objects either from pre-made templates, or from existing digital objects (creating objects, templates, copy, paste).
  • Designator – A tool designed to designate either a digital object or a set of digital objects as the target of an actions. Using the tool the set can also be manipulated as a set (sorting, querying).
  • Backtracker – A tool to explore different states of a computer, mostly in time. Files can be sent into the past (deleting), or previous states can be explored and recovered (undo, redo, backwards and forwards, delete).
  • Opener – A tool to open and close digital containers, possibly recursively. Containers can also be additional functionality for example of templates for the Creator (open, close)
  • Navigator – A slightly modified version of an existing tool to navigate in 2d or 3d space. Often used in 3d modelling, but also for exploring 3d environments or navigating through documents (scrolling, rotating, viewing, zooming).
  • Keyboard – A keyboard that functions as a normal keyboard, except that it is used in conjunction with a Designator to specify where the text typed is being inserted (to enable multi-user interaction) (typing, shortcuts).
  • Pointer – Usually a pen, finger or in some cases even a mouse, this tool is included in the set to complete it, but it is assumed that this is already available (selecting functionality, creating content).

Parallel to developing the different prototypes, an analysis of the current context from both a business and social perspective was done, analysing trends in new business models, and how trends in social movements, thanks to both technological advances and social media have come together in a maker movement as well as a crowd-patronage movement. These offer opportunities for both business models that could make these tools feasible, as well as opportunities for engaging new people in interest and participation in the creation of tangible tools.

For a more in depth view of the process behind this thesis, feel free to visit this page.

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