Tangible Methods

Project Description

Tangible systems attempt to bridge the physical and the digital worlds. HCI researchers and practitioners are usually working towards a digital system, but use many hands-on processes in the analysis and design phases to get there. This project explores the potential for augmenting the physical artifacts (paper notes) used in the HCI affinity diagramming process.


Certain important work processes are still overwhelmingly performed in the physical world and without computer support: verbally or by hand, on paper and whiteboards, with handwritten notes and sketches. Some examples include brainstorming, informal planning and sketching. Much research has investigated the affordances of everyday artifacts, particularly paper, and identified benefits that are hard to replicate with computers (see e.g. Sellen & Harper 'The Myth of the Paperless Office,' 2003; Luff et al. 'Only touching the surface: Creating affinities between digital content and paper,' CSCW 2004).

Affinity diagramming is a method for data analysis, idea-generation and organizing unstructured material, used in management, design, HCI research and anthropology. The process typically takes the form of arranging paper notes on a surface. Previous efforts to offer computer support for affinity diagramming have taken the form of desktop or touchscreen systems that eliminate or reduce the role of the paper notes.

Instead of trying to recreate the affordances of paper on a screen, this project takes a different approach, attempting to use interactive paper technology (i.e. visual markers, microdots) to create an affinity diagramming computer system that can be used by moving paper notes around, creating a user experience based on the idea of implicit interaction.

Project structure

The project involves formative studies of how affinity diagramming (and related processes) are currently practiced, concept design, prototype implementation, and evaluation and studies of the resulting systems. The various parts are currently underway. To take part in a study of the prototype system, please sign up below.

PapperlappApp Study

Reports and Publications

  • Harboe, G., Huang, E.M. "Real-world affinity diagramming practices: bridging the paper–digital gap" at CHI 2015 (full paper)
  • Harboe, G. "Understanding and Augmenting a Paper Arrangement-Based Method" at UbiComp 2013 doctoral consortium (position paper)
  • Harboe, G., Minke, J., Ilea, I., Huang, E.M. "Computer support for collaborative data analysis: augmenting paper affinity diagrams" at CSCW 2012 (short paper)
  • Harboe, G., Doksam, G., Keller, L., Huang, E.M. "Two Thousand Points of Interaction: Augmenting paper notes for a distributed user experience" at CHI 2012 Workshop on Distributed User Interfaces (position paper)
  • Minke, Jonas "Augmentation of the Affinity Diagram: Searching for Notes on the Affinity Wall" (Master thesis). 17.05.2010
  • Doksam, Gelek "Where's the note?" (Master thesis). 31.01.2012
  • Keller, Lukas "AffinityScanner" (Master thesis). 19.03.2012