Evaluating Interaction with Display Applications in Public Space

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As published ealier in this blog, interactive display analysis has already yielded data related to the public use of and interaction with displays. In order to develop a “Framework for Evaluating Interaction with Multi-Display Applications in Public Space”, I expanded the previous post.

Initial investigations of public interactions with large-scale displays can provide valuable insights into the process of usage and interaction. As a starting point Brignull and Rogers divide this process in their “two-thresholds framework” into peripheral, focused activities, and direct interaction (1). In a similar approach, Vogel and Balakrishnan’s “four-phase framework” differentiates between ambient display, implicit, subtle, and direct interaction (3). Last but not least, Streitz et al.’s “three-phase framework” focuses on the areas in which interaction takes place rather than the interaction process itself. (2).


Brignull and Rogers (1) make a distinction between and divide the process of interaction into three general phases. These phases range from perception to direct interaction with the featured content, as shown in figure 1, and include: peripheral awareness activities, focal awareness activities, and direct interaction:

Peripheral awareness activities

Peripheral awareness activities are described as follows: “Typically eating, drinking and socializing elsewhere at the party. In general, people in these activity spaces are peripherally aware of the display’s presence and do not know much about it.”

Focal awareness activities

Focal awareness activities are already associated with the display: “People in these activity spaces are engaging in socializing activities associated with the display – talking about, gesturing to and watching the screen being used. Here they give the display more attention and learn more about it.”

Direct interaction activities

Direct interaction activities concern the active engagement with the interaction system: “In this activity space, an individual (or a group acting cooperatively) type in their opinion to the display. In their analysis Brignull and Rogers not only look at these three kinds of activities but also at the transition zones between them.

Their analysis revealed that the transition zones between different types of activities represent a key bottleneck in public interaction behavior: “In particular, in crossing the threshold from peripheral to focal awareness activities (e.g. from chatting to someone on the other side of the room to deciding to move within view of the display to have a better look), people need to be motivated. […] Once participants have […] decided to give the display more attention, their interest needs to be stimulated enough to maintain their attention.” (1)

Interaction Thresholds

Figure 1 : Two-Thresholds-Framework for Interaction Phases (Source: 4, according to 1)

Three-phase Framework

By dividing the space into ambient, notification, and interactive zones, as Streitz et al.’s “Three-Phase Framework for Interaction Phases” in figure 2 shows, content can be adapted to each phase [2]. Their model focuses on the design of the system from the ambient to the interactive zone, rather than the behavior of the user. Still, it is very helpful to understand the changes in user behavior specific to each zone.

Ambient Zone:

In the ambient zone, content is of a more general nature (directions, general information) and does not require user presence. It is only slightly or not at all interactive and serves as advertising on a dynamic surface: “When people are passing by but are outside the range of the […] sensors, they experience the “ambient” mode, i.e. the display shows general information that is defined to be shown independent of the presence of a particular person.”

Notification Zone:

In the notification zone, display content reacts to user presence and encourages the user to more closely approach the display’s surface and to begin interaction with the content: “If an individual approaches or passes by close to the wall [display], the person enters the notification zone and the wall will react. […] While the notification serves already an important purpose, in many cases there is a need to receive more detailed information.”

Interaction Zone

Interactive systems can also feature direct interaction, including calling up local information. As a viewer approaches the surface, or once her presence is registered, interactive content is displayed that can provide personal, detailed information: “The third zone is active, once the person is very close to the GossipWall [display]. In this case, the person can approach the GossipWall and interact with each single cell (= independent interactive pixel). This is able to store and communicate information in parallel in combination with mobile devices.”


Figure 2 : Three-phase Framework for Interaction Phases (Source: 4, according to 2)

As figure 2 illustrates, the Three-Phase Framework focuses on the differentiation between specific zones of interaction. Details about the user’s activities, body movements, gestures, etc. are not given.

Four-phase Framework

In their “four-phase framework” Vogel and Balakrishnan differentiate between ambient display, implicit, subtle, and direct interaction. The framework differs from Streitz et al.’s three-phase model in that it emphasizes the interaction between the system and the user and the “fluid transitions between phases, and […] supports sharing by several users each within their own interaction phase” [3].
“By dividing Streitz et al’s ‘interaction zone’ into ‘subtle’ and ‘personal’ interaction phases, and by generalizing the notion of a ‘notification zone’ into an ‘implicit’ interaction phase, [the] framework suggests a wider range of implicit and explicit interaction techniques.” As quoted, the framework illustrated in figure 3 focuses on system design and interactive potential from a technological point of view.


Figure 3: Four-phase Framework for Interaction Phases (Source: 4, according to 3)

The framework’s four continuous phases cover a range of activities from distant implicit public interaction to personal interaction. It also looks at fluid inter-phase transitions between every phase.

Ambient Display Phase

Vogel and Balakrishnan designate the ambient information display as the neutral state. It forms “a central context anchoring all subsequent interaction” and should give the user an overview of what kind of information or interactive function the system offers.

Implicit Interaction Phase

The description of the first interaction phase mirrors the technological perspective of this framework: “The system state shifts to an implicit interaction phase with peripheral notification when a user passes by. The system should recognize the user’s body position and orientation and use this information to infer their openness to receiving information.” Once the user approaches the display or shows her interest in other ways the system should respond to the user’s activities. The reaction of the system can “draw the user closer to the display, leading them to enter the next interaction phase.”

Subtle Interaction Phase

The subtle interaction phase merely provides a description of use behavior. However it does indicate that “to this point, the user has only interacted implicitly.” In response to this implicit interaction “the system should enter the subtle interaction phase. More detailed descriptions of the notifications and/or the current state of the available public information are displayed.”

Personal Interaction Phase

In the final phase, the user is close to the display. Since she stands close to the surface “the user should be able to move closer to the screen and touch information items for more details, including personal information. […] Since the user is close to the display, their body can help occlude the view of their personal information from others.”


Figure design by Tanja Trültzsch
2012 graphic and corporate design


  1. Brignull, H., Rogers, Y. (2003), Enticing People to Interact with Large Public Displays in Public Spaces, INTERACT’03
  2. Streitz, N. A., Röcker, C., Prante, Th., Stenzel, R., van Alphen, D. (2003), Situated Interaction with Ambient Information: Facilitating Awareness and Communication in Ubiquitous Work Environments. In: Tenth International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (HCI International 2003), June 22-27, 2003.
  3. Vogel, D., Balakrishnan, R. (2004), Interactive public ambient displays: transitioning from implicit to explicit, public to personal, interaction with multiple users. In Proceedings of the 17th Annual ACM Symposium on User interface Software and Technology (Santa Fe, NM, USA, October 24 – 27, 2004). UIST ’04. ACM, New York, NY, 137-146
  4. Michelis, D. (2009), Interaktive Großbildschirme im öffentlichen Raum: Nutzungsmotive und Gestaltungsregeln, Gabler


1 Response to “Evaluating Interaction with Display Applications in Public Space”

  1. 1 Ricardo January 2, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Excellent overview of the models. I would have liked an examination of the transition between phases on the 4 Phase Framwork, since its something that differentiates it from the Steirz framework. But otherwise nice summary job. Thanks.

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