Björn Hartmann and future design tools

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Björn Hartmann, a human computer interaction researcher who is currently finishing his PhD in Computer Science at Stanford and will soon be teaching at Berkeley. I first heard of his work at IxDA Interaction ‘09 in Vancouver when several industry colleagues raved about his fourbysix project that he presented.

A video of his entire presentation is unfortunately not available, but Josh Damon-Williams did manage to grab this clip.

After watching this clip it’s easy to understand why the audience became so excited about the possibilities of these tools. At the same time, I wondered what the chances were for something like fourbysix to be developed on a much larger scale. The fact is that we can drool over tools like this all we want, but unless a large group of designers starts supporting the work of people like Björn, we’re going to be stuck with the same tools we’ve been using for the past ten years for the foreseeable future. I wanted to know what it would take to make tools like this accessible to more designers.

When I met with Björn, he explained how he created the fourbysix table while at Microsoft. Not surprisingly, he used a lot of Microsoft technology including the Microsoft Surface SDK and proprietary source code only available within Microsoft’s walls. However, he also used a lot of non-proprietary technology, including tools that have been available since the late 90s. He also explained that, while he did use proprietary technology to build fourbysix, there are more open equivalents that could be used to build something very similar.

So with enough know-how, resources and materials, you could build something like the table in the clip above, but chances are that this is out of reach for most designers. So what’s the next option? According to Björn, the best chance for designers to make use of this technology is to collaborate with a research university on such a project. Fortunately, there may even be opportunities for this in the San Francisco area over the coming year.

If you’re interested in participating in something like this in the future, please get in touch with myself or Björn. In the meantime, I’ll definitely be following his work and helping out where I can.

Update (21/9/09)

Björn just let me know that videos are now available which feature the multitouch table he demonstrated at Interaction ‘09.


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I’d love to use a table like this or even build one from scratch but I know I can’t do it on my own. Do you know of any university projects like this going on in Los Angeles?

  2. I wish I did. As far as I know there are very few projects like this happening around the world, but if anyone knows, Björn does.

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