Articulating Interactions III

‘Giving form to computational things’ by Anna Valgårda (2014) and ‘Interaction Gestalt’ by Lim et al. (2007)

Notional Field, the 10th Bienal de Video y Artes Mediales in Santiago, Chile, 2012.

Giving form to computational things by Anna Vallgårda

“Giving form to computational things is highly complex and somewhat different than most other form- giving practices due to its temporal form element — its ability to change between states.”— Lauren’s presentation

Vallgårda states that interaction design needs to include the temporal form in combination with the physical form and the interaction gestalt. (Vallgårda, 2014) Traditionally, a formgiver only works with the physical form and the interaction gestalt, e.g. the building of a chair and the thought of how the chair should be sat on aka. the interaction with the chair. But given computers and the design therein, Vallgårda argues that the temporal form is a new and equally important consideration when it comes to designing interactions.

“The temporal form (in interaction design) is the pattern of the state changes that the computer will produce.” (Vallgårda, 2014: 2)

More specifically the temporal form can be seen as the programming behind the interactive artefact.

“Trinity of Form” from the article by Anna Valgårda

To put this into context, I will apply the trinity of form on the Clock app on the iPhone, the same app as used in the previous two posts on articulating interactions.

  • The physical form is the primarily the iPhone itself, but also the app seen as a separate whole. I argue this because while the app would not function without the physical phone, it is still a seperate entity that can be understood without understanding the phone.
  • The interaction gestalt is the way the user utilises the app. It’s the setting of the alarm clock by sliding the hours and minutes up and down — it’s the starting and stopping the stop watch by clicking. When a user sets an alarm clock he/she trusts the clock app to deliver an alarm 8 or so hours later. This brings me to the third and very dominant form in this particular artefact:
  • This app would not have come to be without the programming behind it. The temporal form is the ability of the app to actually do what it is meant to do. It’s the coding behind the app, invisible to the user, that states that if the user sets an alarm for 8 hours later, the phone will start beeping those 8 hours later.

This brings me to the notion of computational composites:

“Designing with them (read: computational composites) is thus designing the physical and temporal form in the same process and through that formation encourages certain interaction gestalts.” (Vallgårda, 2014: 4)

This can be seen in the Clock App as it is completely dependent of the physical form of iPhone to work. And the Clock App’s temporal form has been developed with the physical form of the iPhone in mind.

More specifically for the Clock app, one of the examples of computationel composites called computed causality is what makes the set alarm beep at the requested time. “Computed causality is the ability to translate a specific sensor input into a specific activation of an actuator.” (Vallgårda, 2014: 7) which in the Clock app’s relation means the setting of the alarm as an input and the sound of the alarm as the output e.g. a completely different sensory output than input.

‘Interaction Gestalt’ by Lim et al.

Interaction Gestalt by Lim et. al. (2007) has many commonalities with Vallgårda’s trinity of forms. I will briefly argue why I think this is the case.

Both Lim et. al. and Vallgårda splits interaction design up into three separate entities. And both have “Interaction Gestalt” as a major entity. But where Lim et. al. places “Interaction Gestalt” at the center of his model, Vallgårda argues that it is equally as important as the physical form and the temporal form. 
Lim et. al. also has the “interactive artifact” which is a combination of Vallgårda’s physical form and temporal form. “The dynamics, flexibility, and intelligence enabled by computing technologies embedded in interactive artifacts make the characteristics of such artifacts distinctive from other types of non-computing technology artifacts.” (Lim et. al. 2007: 241) 
Where Lim et. al.’s model differentiates from Vallgårda’s trinity of forms is in it’s user experience aspect which argues that “interaction is not something inherent only to the artifact but something that emerges through the inter-plays between people and artifacts” (Lim et. al. 2007: 244)

Conclusively, Vallgårda has built on top of older design notions, both traditional formgiving but also interaction design notions such as Lim. et. al. She has articulated a new trinity of interaction design disciplines that let the technology of computers take a more dominant place, than it has done before.


  • Lim, Y., Stolterman, E., Jung, H., & Donaldson, J. (2007). Interaction Gestalt and the Design of Aesthetic Interactions. Designing Pleasurable Products And Interfaces.
  • Vallgårda, Anna. “Giving form to computational things: developing a practice of interaction design.” Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 18.3 (2014): 577–592.
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