Category: Universal Design

close up of man wearing an input device around his ear that he is pointing to with his index finger

The Human Body as Touchscreen Replacement

Summary: When you touch your own body, you feel exactly what you touch — better feedback than any external device. And you never forget to bring your body.

palm with dots representing various commands
Touching specific spots on your own hand enters the commands.

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen discusses the future of HCI (Human Computer Interaction) and Ubiquitous User Interfaces in the latest instalment of his blog, Alertbox. Specifically he looks at two concepts that use human body parts as user interfaces: Sean Gustafson‘s hand based interface (pictured) and the EarPut, ear based input system being developed by Roman Lissermann and colleagues from the Technical University of Darmstadt. One very interesting discovery that has been made through this work is that when blindfolded, users were almost twice as fast using the hand interface than they were using a regular glass touch screen. Read the full article here


Dita Von Teese models the black plastic netted dress that was manufactured through a 3D printing precess.

3D Printing – What does it mean for the future of design and manufacturing?

3D printing is not a new technology, it has been around in one form or another for over 20 years with 1986 being the year many credit with its invention. What has changed over the last couple of years is the availability of this technology to the general public. Like many emerging technologies, 3D printing had to first find its way out of DARPA sponsored university labs before being commercially available and then due to its expense remained the preserve of giant multinational manufacturing companies for a number of years. This meant it’s progress along Gartner’s Hype Cycle has been painfully slow only reaching the “Peak of Inflated Expectation” in 2012. The last few years however has seen “Fab Labs” popping up is many cities around the world. The Fab Lab idea sees 3D printing following the tried and tested model used for many years by the 2D printing industry for large volume/high speed colour copying and printing. Rather than an individual purchasing the (still) prohibitively expensive hardware they either commission the item to be printed and supply the 3D file or they rent use of the printer themselves.

2013 is to be the year that 3D printing becomes mainstream and if this happens there are all kinds of ramifications to design, manufacturing and in fact to society as a whole. We saw the beginning of this only a few days ago when the first 3D printed gun was successfully test fired. It’s makers Defence Distributed plan to make the files available to download as part of it’s Wiki Weapons project so that anyone interested can too can print their own gun. See their video below.

Let’s hope their guns are as bad as their videos but joking aside this is obviously something that will get a huge amount of press coverage and will justifiably concern many people. It’s unfortunate that this will be, for many people their first introduction to the whole concept of downloading a digital product that is subsequently manufactured locally through 3D printing. But this is indeed the future that some experts promise us and a future that could result in a move away from designing for mass production towards more bespoke designs manufactured to a smaller scale on demand. Ultimately this could result in designers being freed from the shackles put upon them by economies of scale and allow them to connect directly with the end user in a way that is economically viable.  Whether it will or not remains to be seen but 3D printing certainly has the potential to disrupt the industries of manufacturing and design to the same extent that the digitisation of music and movies disrupted those respective industries.

For more information on 3D printing see:

3D Printing at M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Is 3D printing about to hit the mainstream? from The Guardian.

Comparison chart of 3D printers available for under $20,000

So what this mean for Assistive Technology? Well big changes, just like every other area of design and manufacturing but in exactly what way it’s still not clear. One project that offers hope for the future is Robohand The Robohand project is focused on developing open-source designs for mechanical finger prosthesis and thanks to Makerbot donating two Replicator 2’s (3D Printers) they already have already made considerable progress, see the video below.


The fact that EA (Electronic Arts) Games hugely popular football game FIFA Soccer 13 has received the AbleGamers Foundation for accessible mainstream game award this year might come as somewhat of a surprise to anybody who has played football computer games in the past. Up until now all the most successful games in this genre were almost totally inaccessible to gamers with physical or cognitive disabilities because of their fast-paced nature and the complexity of their controls. So how have EA managed to accomplish this? Well according to Mark Barlet, President and Founder of the AbleGamers Foundation, they have made the game accessible by “including remapable keys, an unheard-of mouse only mode and game settings that allow the entire game to be tailored to the unique abilities of each disabled gamer”. Including these features is very much in line with the Principles of Universal Design, particularly 1) Equitable Use and 2) Flexibility of Use but they also follow the AbleGamers Foundation’s own guidelines for designing accessible games as outlined in their “Includificationwebsite and document published last year. This is an extensive document and certainly a “must read” for game designers interested in creating accessible games. The document acknowledges that universal design as it is applied to other software applications and the internet is not a perfect fit for game design and rather than insisting on a Utopian standard it makes recommendations and suggestions that are currently well within the technical abilities of game developers. While the visual nature of most games might make the Universal Design principle 4) Perceptible Information very difficult to entirely satisfy, by concentrating their efforts on 2) Flexibility of Use game designers can at least hope to accommodate a sizable proportion of those gamers currently excluded from participating in the majority of mainstream games. Accommodations including; allowing the user the ability to change the size, colour and font of text, providing high contrast and colourblind options, allowing the user to set an appropriate difficulty level, a choice of input options and the ability to slow down game play would all help gamers with various disabilities play the same game titles as their peers. This is what EA Games did with FIFA 13, in fact (from my reading of the report rather than reviewing the game) by simply allowing a choice of input options (remapable keys, mouse only option) and providing the ability to slow down game-play EA have not only gotten the good press of winning the accessible mainstream game award 2012 but they have also significantly grown their potential market. Hopefully other game developers will see what an easy win this was and the bar will be raised next year.

What are your thoughts on Universal Game Design? How can designers creating something that is both universally accessible and universally challenging? Is it even possible?