MAS.834 Tangible Interfaces

Hiroshi Ishii

Hiroshi Ishii, Jerome B. Wiesner Professor of Media Arts and Sciences; Associate Director, MIT Media Lab
G (Fall) 3-3-6 H-LEVEL Grad Credit
Tuesday 1-4pm
E15-341 Nagashima Room, MIT Media Lab
View on Canvas

MAS.834 Tangible Interfaces - Fall 2024

WHEN:   Tuesday 1-4 pm 
WHERE:   E15-341

THE FIRST CLASS:    September 10th (Tue), 2024
THE LAST CLASS:   December 10th (Tue), 2024

INSTRUCTOR:   Prof. Hiroshi Ishii

Dr. Jean-Baptiste Labrune


Admin:  TBN

CONTACT:  (instructor, TAs, and staff)

Syllabus on MIT Canvas 2023

----- below under construction ------

▶︎ PRE-REGISTRATION / CROSS-Registration:  If you are interested in taking this course, please pre-register for MAS.834 by September 6th (Wed) so that your name will show up on the MIT CANVAS site. Your accessibility to the MIT CANVAS as a pre-registered student is the condition for the MAS.834 enrollment. If you need help to pre-register, please contact the Registrar’s Office at MIT or the Registrars’ Office at your institutes. 

▶︎ SIGN-UP:  If you are taking this course, please fill in and submit this Google Form by noon on Tuesday September 12th.

If you have questions about the contents of the MAS.834 course, please send an email to


This HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) course will explore the design space of  Tangible User Interfaces (Tangible Bits and Radical Atoms) that give dynamic physical form to digital information and computation. Our goal is to broaden the bandwidth of interaction between people and digital information, making bits directly manipulable with our hands and perceptible at the periphery of human awareness. We will pursue tangible interfaces that are not only practical but also aesthetically pleasing and inspiring.

Through the invention of new digital/physical materials, we would like to enhance our capabilities to design, communicate, and express using the full range of human senses and skills. Among them, we are focusing on Tangible Telepresence to reinvent distancing and strengthen connectedness among people separated spatially and temporally. We introduce "tangibility" to interpersonal communication and collaboration channels to enhance the sense of copresence (social presence). 

We also introduce the vision of TeleAbsence, the interfaces linked to the memory of loved ones,  favorite places, and events you wish to recall and not forget. We explore interactive storytelling using tangible objects such as antique telephones or typewriters and AR techniques to access digital memory associated with the tangibles.

This project-based interaction design course is centered around design workshops, the literature on Tangible User Interfaces (TUIs), dynamic shape displays, programmable materials, and telepresence. This course has two primary student group projects to design TUIs, as well as various guest lecturers from relevant fields of HCI, interaction design, and enabling technologies.

Students will design and develop experimental TUIs, novel applications, engaging interaction scenarios, and enabling technologies in the design studio environment, using sketches, animation, physical mockups, video, and working prototypes to solicit studio discussion. Course enrollment is limited to around 30 to keep a design studio atmosphere.

This course is 100% in-person (physical) meetings on the MIT Campus (E15-341) as a default. We will extensively use cloud-based digital tools such as Canvas, Miro, Slack, Google Drive/Doc/Slides/Sheet, Dropbox, and other remote collaboration groupware. We use Zoom for class recording and guest speakers. 



Week 1: Course Orientation
Week 2: HCI, Ubiquitous Computing, and Tangible UI
Week 3: Future of HCI, including Tangible UI, Ambient UI, Spatial UI, Material UI, and Conversational UI
Week 4: CSCW & TelePresence/TeleAbsence
Week 5: Ambient UI and Ambient Computing
Week 6: Spatial UI (VR/AR/XR)
Week 7: Project 1 mid-term review
Week 8: Radical Atoms: Shape Displays & Actuated Tangibles
Week 9: Future Fiber & Fabric Tech Workshop
Week 10: Materials & Fabrications
Week 11: Future of HCI & AI
Week 12: Project 2 final review & Group Photo Shooting

* No class on October 10 (student holiday) and October 25 (ML member meeting)

Trailer "Making Digital Tangible" - ACM SIGCHI Lifetime Research Award Lecture by Hiroshi at CHI 2019 in Glasgow on May 6th, 2019

2023-12-12 MAS.834 Fall 2022 the Final Class Group Photo

2022-12-13 MAS.834 Fall 2022 the Final Class Group Photo

2021-12-07 MAS.834 Fall 2021 the Final Class Group Photos

2020-12-08 MAS.834 Fall 2020 Final Class Group Photos (100% ONLINE)




In 1997, we presented our vision of “Tangible Bits” at the CHI ’97 conference. We proposed the concept of Tangible User Interface (TUI) that is based on physical embodiment of digital information and computation, in order to go beyond the current dominant paradigm of “Painted Bits” or Graphical User Interface (GUI). Humans have evolved a heightened ability to sense and manipulate the physical world, yet the GUI based on intangible pixels takes little advantage of this capacity. The TUI builds upon our dexterity by embodying digital information in physical space. TUIs expand the affordances of physical objects, surfaces, and spaces so they can support direct engagement with the digital world.

Through the design of a variety of TUIs, however, we have learned that TUIs are limited by the rigidity of “atoms” in comparison with the fluidity of “bits.” TUIs have limited ability to change the form or properties of physical objects in real time. This constraint can make the physical state of TUIs inconsistent with the underlying digital models.


To address this challenge, we presented our new vision, “Radical Atoms,” in 2012. Radical Atoms takes a leap beyond Tangible Bits by assuming a hypothetical generation of materials that can change form and appearance dynamically, becoming as reconfigurable as pixels on a screen.

Radical Atoms is a computationally transformable and reconfigurable material that is bidirectionally coupled with an underlying digital model (bits) so that dynamic changes of physical form can be reflected in digital states in real time, and vice versa.

Radical Atoms is the future material that can transform their shape, conform to constraints, and inform the users of their affordances. Radical Atoms is a vision for the future of human-material interaction, in which all digital information has a physical manifestation so that we can interact directly with it. We no longer think of designing the interface, but rather of the interface itself as material. We may call it “Material User Interface (MUI).”


Tangible Media Group | MIT Media Lab

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