Course Syllabus

Course Info

A considerable amount of research has been done in the domain of Tangible User Interfaces, an approach to HCI which focuses on the physical interaction with computational media. However, it has been difficult to define what tangible user interfaces are, and come to a systematic understanding of possible approaches in designing and evaluating tangible user interfaces. This course will explore the theoretical framework of tangible user interfaces through a series of design examples to compare and contrast. Students will also design and develop experimental tangible user interfaces using physical computing prototyping tools.

The class meets 3 hours per week, 10:30am - 12:00pm on Mondays and Wednesdays. An additional lab hour on Wednesdays 3:00pm - 4:00pm is provided for students to expand their basic lab exercises. On Mondays, there will be lectures and discussions based on our readings. On Wednesdays, we will do hands-on physical computing exercises with Arduino prototyping boards and various sensors and actuators. There are no prerequisites for the class. While no experience working with electronics is required, basic knowledge in and willingness to learn programming is assumed.

Course Schedule & Due Dates

Date Day of Wk Topic Student Presenters (if any) Due Dates Notes
8/23 Wed Course Introduction
8/28 Mon Activity Theory & TUI RR1: Activity Theory & TUI due Sun 8/27 by 11:59pm
8/30 Wed Lab 1 Intro to Physical Computing
9/6 Wed Lab 2 Digital I/O with Arduino Lab 1 HW due Wed 9/6 before class
Mon 9/4 is an academic / administrative holiday
9/11 Mon Tangible Bits RR2: Tangible Bits due Sun 9/10 by 11:59pm
9/13 Wed Lab 3 Sensing: Potentiometers Lab 2 HW due Wed 9/13 before class
9/18 Mon Taxonomy of TUIs RR3: Taxonomy of TUIs due Sun 9/17 by 11:59pm
9/20 Wed Lab 4 Sensing: FSR & Photocells and Serial Communication with Processing Midterm Project Proposal due Wed 9/20 by 11:59pm

Lab 3 HW due Wed 9/20 before class
9/25 Mon Calm Computing & Ambient Media RR4: Calm Computing & Ambient Media due Sun 9/24 by 11:59pm
9/27 Wed Lab 5 Serial Communication with Firmata, Arduino, & Processing Lab 4 HW due Wed 9/27 before class
10/2 Mon Human Centered Design & Innovation RR5: Human Centered Design & Innovation due Sun 10/1 by 11:59pm

Midterm Project Sketches due Mon 10/2 by 11:59pm
10/4 Wed Lab 6 Output: Piezo Speakers Lab 5 HW due Wed 10/4 before class
10/9 Mon Midterm Project Review "Thoughtless Acts" RR due Mon 10/9 by 11:59pm

Midterm Project Presentations due Mon 10/9 in class
10/11 Wed Lab 7 Output: DC Motors Lab 6 HW due Wed 10/11 before class
10/16 Mon Midterm Project Review Midterm Project Presentations due Mon 10/16 in class
10/18 Wed Lab 8 Output: Servo Motors Lab 7 HW due Wed 10/18 before class
10/23 Mon VR & Mixed Reality RR6: VR & Mixed Reality due Sun 10/22 by 11:59pm
10/25 Wed Lab 9 Output: Simple Mechanics Lab 8 HW due Wed 10/24 before class
10/30 Mon Mike Kuniavsky
11/1 Wed Lab 10 Synthesis: Invent a Musical Instrument

Lab 9 HW due Wed 11/1 before class

Final Project Proposal due 11/02 11:59pm

11/6 Mon Ji Won Jun & Alex Ju
11/8 Wed Elisabeth Sylvan Lab 10 HW due Wed 11/8 before class
11/13 Mon Final Project Progress Report & Critique Final Project Presentations 
11/15 Wed Final Project Progress Report & Critique Final Project Presentations 
11/20 Mon Noura Howell
11/27 Mon Evaluating TUIs
Wed 11/22 is a non-instructional day
11/29 Wed Summary
12/4 Mon Final Project Exhibition Final Project Exhibition
12/6 Wed Final Project Exhibition Final Project Exhibition
Fri Dec 8 is last day of instruction. 12/4 and 12/6 are during RRR week.
12/15 (No class) Final Project Report due 12/15 by 11:59pm

Meeting Time and Place

Monday & Wednesday 10:30am - 12:00pm, 202 South Hall
Additional lab hour: Wednesday 3:00pm - 4:00pm, 202 South Hall

Office Hours

  • Kimiko Ryokai: Mondays 2pm - 3pm and by appointment

  • Noura Howell: Wednesdays 12pm - 1pm in room 202 and by appointment

Lab equipment will be available for use during Noura's office hours.


  • Kimiko Ryokai (kimiko [at] (website)

  • Noura Howell (noura [at] (website)


Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers by Tom Igoe and Dan O’Sullivan (2004). The book is available at the campus book store, online at Amazon, or on Berkeley's Oskicat library resource.

Course Lab Kit

The Wednesday curriculum, lab assignments, and homework are based on individual hands-on exercises with Arduino boards and electronic components. Therefore, it is necessary for each individual student to have his/her own lab kit. The lab kit will be available for purchase in class for $75.00.

The lab kit component list can be found here.

You have an option of buying these parts yourself, or purchase the lab kit for $75.00 from us during the first week of class.

Maker Pass

The Wednesday curriculum, lab assignment, homework, midterm project, and final project are based on hands-on making with Arduino boards and electronic components. Therefore, it is strongly encouraged for each individual student to get a Maker Pass for $75.00. Instructions here.

Useful Links


The course will consist of the following graded components.

Weekly Lab In Class & Lab Homework (37%)

In-class lab projects will be graded based on completion and the amount of effort put in. We will provide both “beginner” and “advanced” options, and students are expected to strive for growth in their skill sets during the semester. Homework assignments will build on the lab projects. Students are expected to post descriptions, images, and source code of their assignments on the course website.

Reading Responses (13%)

Students will post short responses in which they reflect upon the assigned readings.

Midterm Project (10%)

Design a Tangible User Interface that takes advantage of your hands and body to manipulate digital information. Apply it to a topic of your research interest (e.g., tool for communication, learning/education, design, etc.). Your project may be based on a completely new design or redesign of familiar everyday objects.

The midterm project consists of these parts:

  • 9/20 Form a group (maximum of 3 members) for your project and submit a 1-page proposal.

  • 10/2 Progress sketches due.

  • 10/9 & 10/16 In-class midterm project presentation. Present your slides and optional mockups.

Final Project (30%)

For the final project, it will be helfpful to reflect on your midterm project. You may expand your midterm project, or take a new approach to a Tangible User Interface. You may continue to work as a group (maximum of 3 members) or as an individual. If you work in a group, be clear about each member’s role in the project.

The final project will involve the ideation and implementation of a novel tangible user interface. It may be a continuation of the midterm project or based on a new idea. The focus on the project will be on the originality and quality of the idea more than on the extent of the implementation (although both are of course important). Project output will be the interface prototype itself (and an optional poster or handouts), which will be presented at an open house at the end of the semester. Additionally, students will be expected to write a short report on the project, including preliminary evaluation of their interface or an outline of what types of evaluation might be conducted in the future.

Final project entails these parts:

  • 11/02 Finalize your group for project and post your proposal on the course website. Create a list of materials you need. (We may be able to help.)

  • 11/13 & 11/15 In-class final project progress report and critique.

  • 12/4 & 12/6 Final project exhibition. Present your prototype. Be prepared to discuss your design principles and design process. Your prototype is to demonstrate your original idea for a Tangible User Interface that takes advantage of your hands and body to manipulate digital information. Each student is required to attend both days of the exhibition, even if they did a team project.

  • 12/15 Final write up due. It must be in the ACM HCI Paper Format (“CHI Proceedings Format”) and should be 4-6 pages in length, submitted in pdf format. The template is available in Word and Latex. Latex is free and Word is free for UC Berkeley students.

Sample Papers:

Participation (10%)

Students are expected to come to class, engage in discussion, and contribute to lab sessions. For the final project exhibition, there are two exhibition days, and each student is required to attend both exhibition days. If you need to miss class due to illness or emergency, please email both the professor and TA beforehand.

Course Summary:

Date Details Due