Our research in shape changing interfaces is motivated by our interest in sensors, actuators and algorithms as design materials, and in the possibilities they offer a designer.

But where many researchers focus on specific technical challenges for the building of shape changing systems, we also work to understand the aesthetic qualities offered by a product that use change in shape as a means of communication.

Currently we are exploring three specific areas together with students and industrial partners, namely the utility of shape change, the transitions between different states of shape change, and something we have-for now-labelled ’imagined physics’.

Exploring utility is simply about understanding contexts and application areas where a shape changing product makes sense by either improving outcomes of an activity, or encouraging specific user responses. We are not interested in shape change simply because it might be considered a “cool” feature or because it-construction wise-is an interesting challenge.

Studying the quality of transitions means that we are interested in how a product changes from one state to another. In terms of how we perceive a product there is a huge difference between rapid erratic transitions and a smooth transition that seems almost organic. The combination of actuators and certain construction materials in shape changing systems seems to be at least tone factor of high importance for aesthetic transitions.

“Imagined Physics” is a phrase we have used to help us describe some of the key design dimensions of shape changing interfaces.  We continue to expand this model with design experiments and research through design methods.