What A Life!

Building A Framework For Constructive Assemblies

Constructive assemblies are tangible user interfaces (TUIs) that involve the interconnection of modular parts. As such, they offer a unique means to support us in our various and diverse activities. However, little information is available for understanding the intricacies of taking a modular, constructive assembly approach to TUI design. Based on an analysis of extensive data collected from interviews with eight world-class TUI experts, we propose a descriptive, conceptual framework to facilitate systematic investigation and critical consideration of constructive assemblies. The paper presents a lifecycle model for constructive assemblies and discusses their main design qualities and associated parameters. We demonstrate how this can be used to structure critical discussions by applying the principles to existing works and the design of our own constructive assembly.

Motivation & Contributions

Constructive assemblies are tangible user interfaces (TUIs) that involve the interconnection of modular physical, interactive units to formulate larger constructions that are automatically or manually put-together. The modularity of such TUIs inherently allows for varying degrees of versatility in how they are used. As such, constructive assemblies have appeared and been leveraged in many domains ranging from storytelling and education to rapid prototyping and the manipulation of digital content. However, despite the wealth of examples of successful constructive assemblies,  we observe that there is a lack of guidelines for this topic which can serve to aid designers in systematically investigating constructive assemblies and creating new ones. This absence motivated us to speak with experts in the field to elicit key thoughts and design cornerstones for constructive assemblies. In this paper, we present our findings from an indepth analysis of interview data gathered through an extensive expert study. Summarizing, the main contributions of this paper are as follows:

  • A discussion of the benefits and risks of a constructive assembly approach to TUI design
  • A lifecycle model that outlines different phases that constructive assemblies can transition between, and how these phases are interconnected
  • An outline of central design themes for constructive assemblies and a discussion of parameters that can be manipulated to achieve a desired balance of these qualities
  • Three case studies based on examples from literature and our own design example, which demonstrate how these principles can be applied to elicit critical design thinking and discussion and can be used to shape future design iterations.




Leong, Perteneder, TUI

Published: March 20, 2017


J. Leong, F. Perteneder, H. Jetter, and M. Haller. What a Life! Building a Framework for Constructive Assemblies In Proc. TEI'17, ACM, Yokohama, Japan, 2017, pp. 57-66.


Joanne Leong
Florian Perteneder
Michael Haller
Media Interaction Lab

Hans-Christian Jetter
University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria