TIM (Tangible Instant Messaging)

Project Introduction

Instant Messaging is a popular means of communication on the internet. Programs like MSN Messenger and ICQ are widely used to exchange text messages within a community of ‘buddies’.

The interaction with these programs is through a Graphical User Interface (GUI) augmented with simple sounds to indicate incoming messages. The two main areas of interaction are the dialog window, in which the exchange of messages takes place, and the status window. The status window informs the user about several things. It indicates the status of others, e.g., which of his buddies is online, who is sending a message, if buddies are available or busy, etc. The user can also set his own status through this window, e.g., away, occupied, busy, ‘be right back’. Through pull-down menus in this window you can also contact buddies and send them messages or emails.

As a reaction to the dominance of GUI’s in human computer interaction (HCI) alternative interaction styles are explored. One of these alternatives is tangible interaction which stresses the importance of the physicality of the interaction. In this approach the physical controls for (digital) input are integrated with the physical representation of (digital) output.

In this project the team will design an alternative to the GUI-approach of Instant Messaging, using a physical object which reacts in different ways to the digital signals. Sensing these physical actions through the fingers and matched to the visual functionality of the status window. In this way, the interaction between the screen and the physical objects provide a more ‘tangible’ interaction to emphasize the messaging experience.

The design process should involve the following steps:

  1. Define the functional requirements within the current status window.
  2. Come up with tangible alternatives for these functionalities. Use different creativity techniques like ‘Interaction Relabelling’, ‘Tinkering’ and ‘Design Moves’.
  3. Integrate the tangible alternatives into several concepts
  4. Realize the best concept (both in hardware and software) – Make a good working physical model and GUI screen interface.
  5. A preliminary user study to investigate the effects of the tangible extension against the basic GUI.

This project focuses on the tangible interface design rather than programming skills. As required, the students should have done Java A and B, and had finished one of the Java projects before this project. The students will develop further in object-oriented design and programming, Java design patterns and network communication protocols. To reduce the programming workload and to have more time for tangible interface design, the project will provide the students with a full Java implementation of an IM client based on the XMPP (Jabber) protocol. A set of LEGO robotic kit with extra sensors will be provided to the students to implement the intelligence and the mechanism of the objects. Along with the physical model, The students need to implement the behaviour of the tangible objects, and the communication between the Jabber client (GUI) and the objects.

Project, Objectives and Opportunities for Competency Development

The project has to have emphasis on awareness of four important aspects of a design:


List of Available Resources/Experts


ir. Stephan Wensveen


Nico Kamperman

Interaction relabelling & tinkering

ir. Joep Frens

Tangible Instant Messaging



Smack Jabber API

JBother (a Java Jabber client)

Thinking in Java (free yet good java book)

Java for the RCX:


Extra sensors

Final results




JunHu: tim-dc136 (last edited 2008-10-03 20:19:15 by localhost)