An Event Apart: “The Physical Interface”

Josh Clark speaking at An Event Apart Orlando 2016 at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in Walt Disney World on October 4, 2016.

We suddenly live in a strange and wonderful nexus of digital and physical. Touchscreens let us hold information in our hands, and we touch, stretch, crumple, drag, and flick data itself. Our sensor-packed phones even reach beyond the screen to interact directly with the world around us. While these digital interfaces are becoming physical, the physical world is becoming digital, too. Objects, places, and even our bodies are lighting up with with sensors and connectivity. We’re not just clicking links anymore; we’re creating physical interfaces to digital systems. This requires new perspective and technique for web and product designers. The good news: it’s all within your reach. With a rich trove of examples, Designing for Touch author Josh Clark explores the practical, meaningful design opportunities for the web’s newly physical interfaces.


  • Curious Rituals: A design fiction film that explores new kind of digital habits in the near future
  • We’re forced to bend to the technology instead of the reverse
  • We feel trapped by the technology
  • There are a million ways we could get this wrong—so let’s think hard about how we might get this right
  • You can now touch data like a physical object (e.g. iPad, iPhone)
  • Our job as designers is to translate intent into action
  • We are going from digital to physical (or perhaps digital to more human)
  • We are also going from physical to digital
  • The smartphone is the first huge IoT device
  • Mobile gives computing power to immobile objects
  • The web has sensor savvy, too
    • JavaScript APIs Current Status
      • Record audio & video
      • Understand speech
      • Make & hear sound
      • GPS location
      • Vibrate
      • Video conference
      • Accelerometer
      • Ambient light
    • Do this today
  • Where do we go from here?
  • Four kinds of physical interfaces:
    1. Sensor input to the web
    2. Notification from the web
    3. Physical avatar of digital info
    4. Physical interaction
  • Why do we make it? To whose benefit?
  • The goal is not to make things talk, it’s to improve the conversation
  • Ethical Design Manifesto
  • Wayfindr
  • Wink: Robot Butler
  • “How smart does your bed have to be before you’re afraid to go to sleep at night?” — Rich Gold
  • Give the robots good values & good manners
  • Amplify your humanity
  • Check the values of your creation
  • Designing for Touch by Josh Clark

Speaker Links and Resources