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Towards interusability; HCI for cloud computing and embedded devices

Helen Le Voi Fjord

19 Margaret Street

London, W1W8RR. UK helen.levoi@fjord.co.uk

Ann Light Communication and Computing Research Centre Sheffield Hallam University Sheffield. UK a.light@shu.ac.uk

Claire Rowland


19 Margaret Street

London, W1W8RR. UK Claire.rowland@fjord.co.uk

Copyright is held by the author/owner(s). CHI 2011, May 7–12, 2011, Vancouver, BC, Canada. ACM 978-1-4503-0268-5/11/05.


The purpose of our work is to generate insight into user interaction and user interface (UI) designs, metaphors and principles currently applied to devices and services that use the cloud. We aim to answer the question:

how can embedded device/service combinations with adaptive and interconnected interaction concepts be designed for purposefulness, usability and optimized user experience? We are investigating a system of benchmarking to examine existing products and services in order to derive generally applicable patterns that can be used as a foundation for the development of design methods and tools.


Smarcos, interusability, ubicomp, Internet of Things, benchmarking, taxonomy

ACM Classification Keywords

H5.m. Information interfaces and presentation (e.g., HCI): Miscellaneous.

General Terms

Design, Human Computer Interaction



As microchips and computing power get cheaper it will become easier to build technology into everyday objects. Advances in cloud computing, coupled with embedded technologies, will lead to novel user experiences and possibilities for interaction.

The Smarcos project, started in 2010 under the European Union Artemis framework, was designed to find solutions to usability problems. Smarcos studies cloud computing from both a consumer and industrial perspective. We seek to advance 'interusability', i.e.

human-computer interfacing techniques for interconnected devices. We are particularly interested in device/system combinations that:

Are embedded within a device, so do not have a standard UI

Are affected by proximity or context

Run across multiple devices

Are part of a service

Are customizable by users

Adapt to their environment.

The project has chosen to focus on the thorny aspects of innovative digital system design; such as how to balance user(s) and system in providing services where multiple functions and platforms meet. As Ackerman (2000) says: ‘If CSCW (or HCI) merely contributes “cool toys” to the world, it will have failed its intellectual mission. … [the] social-technical gap is unlikely to go away, although it certainly can be better understood and perhaps approached.’

Unlike most research into the Internet of Things – that ubicomp system of embedded chips and sensors which as yet has few formal applications, but promises much – we are less concerned with technology and more concerned with how services will be understood and managed. What does the mobility of services across platforms mean to the user? How do we make this seamless? How do we design for complex interactions? What are the methods and tools we can use to discover what works and how do we make sure, as complexity grows, that these things are interusable?

Consequently, we are investigating a means of benchmarking services. As a starting point we are examining existing products and services in order to derive generally applicable patterns that can be used to develop design methods and tools for new product/service combinations. The purpose of our work is to generate insight into the UI designs and metaphors currently applied in device/cloud-based service solutions.

The Smarcos project, is a 16m, 3 year EU funded public-private consortium of 16 partners, including Nokia Research, Philips Research, Indra, VTT and Honeywell. It aims to develop methods that enable embedded computers to be better aware of their users and the other devices near them, linked locally, via short-range networks, and/or through the cloud. Smarcos research topics include collaborative context awareness and user modeling ( http://www.smarcos- project.eu/).


3 Fig 1: Nabaztag benchmark. Our starting point was Nabaztag. Permission from the author: Ji-hye Park,

Fig 1: Nabaztag benchmark. Our starting point was Nabaztag. Permission from the author: Ji-hye Park, 2011.


Part of the value of benchmarking is to see if there is sufficient consistency developing even to categorize types of service and platform (see Fig 1). The longer- term goal of deciding what interaction metaphors are appropriate can only be tackled once a range of functions has been more clearly established. One obvious insight is that in an Internet of Things environment, users interact with enhanced objects which are both the physical item itself and acting as data repositories / sensors / touch-points to services.

Much of this activity is expected object-object, rather than directly with users. Nonetheless, feedback mechanisms will be necessary to ensure that users are not left without a way of following the activity of and controlling the system. Can we expect a form of hybrid user interaction to follow the hybridization of objects as they are at once both a physical manifestation and a body of interactive information?

manifestation and a body of interactive information? Fig 2: Ways of being embedded. Diagram by Le

Fig 2: Ways of being embedded. Diagram by Le Voi and Light.


Because of the number of partners in the project, early work has involved articulating understandings and comparing them as well as working on new concepts. There is limited language to talk about cloud relations and words are used in different ways. For instance, a tension has appeared in understanding the meaning of ‘embedded’. Fig 2 shows the various understandings identified at an early project meeting. Information may be embedded in the environment so that devices can only pick it up when they reach particular locations. Games and adverts have begun to use this functionality. By contrast, ‘embedded’ chips and sensors relate to types of technology. These are embedded in the sense that they concealed in objects or tools, distinguishing them from interfaces with keyboards and screens. This is the invisible computing (Norman 1999) of cars and air conditioning.


As we examine existing tools, the most important distinction is emerging between platform and service. For our purposes, a platform is open and configurable, like a smart phone. A service (which sits on a platform but may be supplied by a different provider) meets a particular need or desire and tends to have functions clearly mapped out. If we continue the phone example, the apps that can be downloaded from app stores are services. Both can be marketed at the user as cloud technologies but they have widely different implications for use. We are starting to see patterns that suggest that designers will need to understand a category type in order to make the interaction and UI interusable.

Further Questions

As this is an early point in our project, we are still generating questions as much as answers. We share some of these here because we would be interested to explore them at the workshop.

Are all device/service platforms suitable for all user types or, by the nature of their perceived complexity, will user segments be predetermined?

How does a user’s relationship with a device/service change over time?

How does a user's context affect how they perceive an object and therefore how much they are prepared to trust their information to that object?

How do users behave towards the devices on which services are executed? Can we design for that?

Does the design need to change when there is a critical mass of users within the service?

Who owns and controls contextual information? How do users protect or choose to share their context?

Can we design for nuance?

As the cloud aggregates data, how is this fed-back to the user?

Can services be used independent of the cloud or other users, how will that affect the UI for a cloud based service?

How can a user benefit from the collective intelligence of the cloud? Which device is speaking and why?

Acknowledgements We thank all Smarcos partners and our colleagues at Fjord, especially Ji-hye Park and Noemi Mass.



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