Ambient Interfaces

It is becoming clear that the presence of connected devices in the home is inevitable. I've joined forces with Modem and Yujie Wang, human-computer interaction researcher at MIT, to explore what a less intrusive, less demanding version of the user interface at home could be like. Ambient Interfaces imagines a domestic UI that complements the human environment, rather than imposing itself upon the habitants.

→ Read the full paper at Modem

This UI draws upon the aesthetic of Japanese zen gardens, displaying the real-time locations of a household’s members by tracing elegant circular patterns on thin layers of pebble stones, with computer-guided metal ball bearings representing each individual.

Inspired by the traditional Chinese art of Dishu, this ambient UI writes an ephemeral haiku on bathroom wall tile every morning, providing information about that day’s weather. The wall tile is actually a computer-controlled drip system that generates the haikus using clear water as ink.

This adaptive UI invokes ancient sundials, synthesizing personal health metrics to reflect an individual’s current state in the form of artificially-reproduced sunlight and shadows displayed on a room’s walls, and producing a calming effect in response to detected stress.


Regardless of technological advancements, the home’s enduring purpose remains the same: to shelter its human inhabitants and to facilitate the wide variety of activities and tasks that they perform within. Metaphors like “a machine for living” attest to this broad purpose and describe its constantly evolving nature. Interfaces, along with digital technology itself, are recent additions to the domestic environment. Because their incorporation into the home has too often been haphazard and suboptimal, serving the needs of the devices themselves more than the humans who use them, this technology has not yet fulfilled its potential. By creating ambient interfaces according to a more intentional set of design principles, we can rectify this imbalance and affirm the home’s proper role as a support system for the humans who live within — making it a true operating system for living.

→ Read the full paper at Modem


UX & Motion design

Direction by Modem
Design Principles by Yujie Wang
Text by Drew Austin