Temporal Form in Interaction Design

Interaction design is distinguished from most other design disciplines through its temporal form. Temporal form is the computational structure that enables and demands a temporal expression in the resulting design. Temporal form is what enables poetry. In music, temporal form is the composition of tones, pauses, and timbre arranged into harmonies and rhythms. In interaction design it is, for instance, the behaviors of pixels on a screen or the movements in shape-changing interfaces.

In this study we have invited seven experts (in interaction design and temporal arts) to help us understand the some of the experiential qualities of different temporal forms. The objet of the study consists of three wooden boxes with simple shape-changing surfaces constructed from white cotton, actuators (stepper motors, servomotors, and shape-memory alloys respectively). The actuators can be controlled through two turning knobs at the bottom of each box. For each box we constructed three-four different temporal forms, predominantly playing with synchronicity, speed, rhythms, levels of control.

The study provides us with some insights into how to compose temporal forms to achieve different experiences. For instance, how a hint of irregularity in an otherwise steady rhythm is perceived as organic but without the slight irregularity it is more likely to be perceived as mechanic. It has shown how non-initiated and erratic behavior is likely to be interpreted as a sign of personality. Just as we saw how the quality of the behavior matters, indicating that forceful and potentially uncontrollable powers evoke strong vicarious responses, as do delicate, timid behaviors, albeit of a different kind.

For more information see this descriptive video of the study, or look at the different temproal forms.


Vallgårda, Anna, Morten Winther, Nina Mrch, & Edit Emese Vizer. 2015. Temporal Form in Interaction Design. International Journal of Design. 9, 3. 1-15. [pdf]

Project team:
Anna Vallgrda, Morten Winther, Nina Mrch, and Edit E. Vizer

Lars Toft Jacobsen