NIME : TouchGrid – Combining Touch Interaction with Musical Grid Interfaces


Touch interfaces for musical applications have been first introduced in the early 90s by Schneiderman. They started out controlling vocal synthesis. Since then the Monome grid has developed into the standard of interfaces for musical equipment over the last 15 years.

The article I read explains how they made an effort to provide an other solution to it. Their suggested solution is a grid device with capacitive touch technology to use swipe gestures as a menu system, expanding the interface capabilities of the popularized Launchpads nowadays.

One of the reasons that might have made the launchpad keep it’s simplicity and popularity is the fact that most instruments rely on haptic feedback, but almost none rely on visual feedback.

These two grid controllers, Tenori-On and Monome Grid har pushed their interfaces into the music industry which have been the same for 15 years now.

Monome grid

It’s now in more recent times adopted by the more popularized and professional standards in the different Launchpads.

Launchpad X

The great thing about the interface and allegedly why it’s been adopted is it’s generic layout which allows any artist to customize and play however they want.

Added functionality to the grid layout is the buttons around the “core” allowing the launchpad to control different hardware interfaces with specific software.

Their project

Touchgrid was developed to solve problems from limited resolution and restricted space provided by grids using touch interfaces. It keeps the generic button layout of the launchpad, but uses capacitive touch to extent it’s possibilities.

1st iteration

Their solution was the capacitive touch display consisting of 16*8 grid of touch areas. By using time-based date they recognized different interactions such as swipes and bezel interactions.

Problem: Due to their now huge processing requirements, the system ran on a slower maximum sample-rate than preferred.

TouchGrid – 1st prototype

2nd prototype

For their next prototype they used a Adafruit NeoTrellis M4 which is a readymade DIY kit. Using LEDs and silicone buttons to expand their Launchpad.

Chosing from a wide range of possible interactions they chose the “Drag from off-screen” and “Horizontal swipe” as their interactions as they are well known from smart devices adopted by the common public today.

with a more restricted but better hardware layout they manage to fix their problem with high sampling rates and hence performance was bettered.

Touchgrid – 2nd prototype

In an innovative solution this group made interactions replace the buttons from the Launchpad, allowing more space for music, less for navigation. The buttons allocated to menu-changing actions from the launchpads were now replaced with swiping motions we learned using our phones.

Their new menu layout is made in a spatial context to reduce the learning curve and mental workload of learning their device. Using the swiping interactions mentioned earlier they make an intuitive mapping as shown below.

Spatial layout

In the end they managed to gather user insight from 26 people with prior knowledge of how to use similar instruments. Answers from their survey revealed that the touch patterns are recognized and their mapping works. There is however worries that the suggested interaction system might add complexity and interferences with an already working product.


As they are saying themselves, they will make the argument of expanding the capabilities of tangible devices instead of making touch screens more tangible. Meaning that they will take their learning from touch screen interactions and implementing them on the grids and tangible devices for a haptic screen feel.

Being an interaction designer it’s refreshing seeing a well developed tangible interaction system stand its ground towards more “modern” screen touch-based ones. In a very human way this project combines what we know and adopted from before with another dear interaction to us from another system.

Interactions to design in a city

A dense city has been and is still the vision of architects as a suggestion to solve a lot of modern problems within city development. I can’t think of a place packet with more interactions than a dense city, my logic dictates that of course should there be interaction designers specifically focused on developing the city.

As I’ve seen in my research so far there are lots of micro districts where notions of the city development of the future takes place. Starting with the small projects will be more manageable, iterative, consequential and considerable towards its people. As with the futuristic city of Telalosa(as mentioned earlier) it can grow a stronger sense of community and shared responsibility within.

Going from a world built around “starchitects” as Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer e.g. I hope we’re going in a more democratic and inclusive way of thinking about city development. Moving away from old ways someone have to design the processes of inclusive design. In a top-down world someone have to advocate the inhabitants of areas of development. More information than ever is at our hands, someone have to shed a light on inequality and also make the information accessible. Reading one of thousand definitions of interaction design, I would argue this someone can be a interaction designer.

interaction design synthesizes and imagines things as they could be. the practice of designing interactive digital products, environments, systems, and services. Beyond the digital aspect, interaction design is also useful when creating physical (non-digital) products, exploring how a user might interact with it.

Definition from Wikipedia

 Marianthi Tatari is a Senior Architect at UNStudio a knowledge-driven architecture and design practice that prides itself on its human-centered approaches. Her approaches to design are holistic and system oriented. One of her approaches for developing city areas is using testzones to spark progression and invite for communication about the projects.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Jane Jacobs

With all the projects of cities comes interactions. They might be planned or developed organically. How nature changes it’s infrastructure and it’s inhabitants adapt to it. Except this time we’re facilitating and planning the change. My vision for designing future cities after doing this research is a participatory designed society where a flat structure of decisions, information, accessibility takes place. Designed for everybody by everybody because everybody is designing their own interactions to some extent.


The “smart city”, where do these ideas come from? is the question raised by Adam Greenfield, in his talk with reSITE, a forum for city development. As smart cities are frequently mentioned in the context of discussing the future of cities I want to highlight some of the negatives associated with it.

One definition of smart cities is that they are, “imbedded networked informatics in every surface, object and relation of the city.” (Meaning everything should be smart). Sounds a bit dystopic doesn’t it?

By this definition smart cities lean towards providing a lifestyle of convenience, consumption and security (for a few). By saying the few, I’m talking about the ones that access the “smartness” of the city they live in. From a lot of cases, e.g. IBM’s smart city, it’s apparent that only top-positioned decision makers can access the data that the population of the city generates. Until now smart cities are largely controlled by large scale actors with their own capitalistic agenda.

Synchronized and analyzed efforts among sectors and agencies as they happen, giving decision makers consolidated information that helps them anticipate problems and manage growth and development

IBM – defining their smart city efforts

The goal of such a city is to optimally regulate and control resources by means of autonomous IT systems

Siemens – about smart cities

A complete picture of building state, usage and operations continually maintained, allowing constant optimization of energy, resources, enviroment, and occupant support and convenience systems.

Living PlanIT

These visions painted by some of the biggest actors behind our smart cities include words like “manage growth”, “optimally regulate and control resources”, “continually maintained, allowing constant optimization”. As Greenfield argues in his reSite talk, these words are purely focused towards the convenience of managing actors completely separated by the people generating the data. Said in an dramatic pictorially manner, “Reflecting lights of our faces to see what engagement we have with what’s around us. But preserving it from the ones that are generating it.”

Referring back to the utopian cities such as Brasilia these smart cities definitions have similarities. As the utopian cities had tendencies of shredding old cities into clean slates to rebuild perfect societies, these smart cities builds a rigid system of managing people of the cities. In the end using politics and strict goals for the cities as means for changing people’s behavior to reach those goals.

“Order is built over time by an infinity of small acts.”

Jane Jacobs

This quote by the famous urbanist and activist Jane Jacobs goes to say that we ought to be careful how we implement change as it’s slowly defining order over time.

A side-effect of such acts are “gentrification”, which means investing in a middle-class district in order to improve it’s quality, often leading to chasing away current inhabitants and replacing them with wealthier people, often in central areas.

The smart city industry is a Trojan horse for technology companies. They come in under the guise of environmentalism and improving the quality of life, but they’re here for money.

Bianca Wylie, The Washington Post

Dreams cause action

In a lecture on the topic of cities of tomorrow Winy Maas opens by saying, “Dreams will be there to be developed by students. How we paint our cities is how they will look like and be interpreted.” Those are words of the world famous architect which tells how he is visioning the cities of tomorrow, but they are not just words. MVRDV as his architecture company is names have numerous projects around the world backing these words.

In Rotterdam MVRDV constructed a bridge reaching towards the sky. As a symbol of an elevated future which is accessible for everyone. The staircase is a steel and glass construction, but as it was adopted by the inhabitants and by-passers of Rotterdam it became much more. Activating events such as fashion shows, weddings, tourism e.g. the bridge became a activator of people.

The skybridge of Rotterdam is a example of Winy Maas’s vision of changing cities. Sights, areas and infrastructure as activators of people creates sparks and identity of cities. “Courage in the cities can activate a chain of activities in an area.” he says. change by change, spark by spark he wished to transform cities by organic change.

It’s a city out of connections, not blocks and towers

Winy Maas

“Connections will stich the cities together. Don’t think in blocks and buildings, think in connections.” is how Winy Maas goes about doing architecture. He want to develop cities district by district, slowly sparking change. Using cheaper affordable accommodations for the middle class, transforming them into buildings interacting with their audience by e.g. skybridges is a vision they have in MVRDV. The believe that a mix of analog and technological interactions is where we are going.

Seoul, in South Korea, is another area where they prove their concepts in their doing. It previously was a grey city, until the mayor made a huge lawn in front of his house, accessible to everyone later leading to the project “sky garden” which was won by MVRDV in a competition. With small iterative steps they developed a system of buildings with varying plants surrounding and inhabiting them. Cafes, toilets, shops e.g. in a collection of building sized flower pots now creates a green sphere in districts of Seoul. Each “oasis” attracted heaps of locals and tourists further kickstarting the project by mere attention and interactivity. Now Seoul already is and envisions itself as a greener city making ripple effects of democratization.

“Could it be more dense, and more green”

Winy Maas

More dense, more green, that’s where Maas wants cities development to head. With clear similarities to the mindsets of new urbanists and visionaries previous to him. His approach is change in one neighborhood at a time, affecting all it’s connections each time. Dreaming about the future possibilities will create sparks in fellow architects, designers and politicians as well as inhabitants in his opinion. Meaning putting action behind dreams small increments at a time will push us where we want to be in an organically manner.

Everything you need to know about new urbanism

New urbanism is a term describing how cities should create better futures for all of us. It’s about place-making and fixing or creating compact new towns and villages for people to thrive in.

Principles of new urbanism are

“walkability” – as the 5,10,15 principle from Le Corbusier.

Connectivity – meaning how infrastructure should disperse traffic and ease mobility.

Mixed-use and Diversity – of both building, people and culture.

Mixed housing – providing a range of houses in size, price and proximity.

Quality Architecture and Urban Design – to emphasize aesthetics, a sense of space, and sites within community.

Traditional neighborhood structure – with public spaces at center, invisible city centers and boarders, and transect planning.

Increased density – higher concentration of people, services and resources.

Smart transportation – to connect cities and neighborhoods

Sustainability – to have a minimal environmental impact, with more local production, respect for ecology and value of natural systems.

Quality of life – as a sum of all the principles to create a high quality of life with places that enrich and inspire the human spirit.

The most important benefits of new urbanism is a healthier lifestyle with less stress, with more opportunities to get to know others in the neighborhood. More freedom and independence to children and elderly because of proximity and ease of mobility. Also diversity of business will help people get jobs easier.

Other important aspects are the increased level of community involvement as a result of people taking part in the community and knowing other residents. Also faster approvals will occur in communities that have adopted smart growth principles resulting in cost/time savings. Mixed-use properties for sharing of spaces throughout the day and night. Less spent per capita on infrastructure and utilities. Less crime and less spent on policing due to presence of more people day and night. Less resistance from community, and greater civic involvement of population leading to better governance.

For the next chapter I will discover what place interaction design have taken in the domain of city development. I will research how meaningful interaction between people to facilitate wellbeing. To search for more specific meaning I will later decide between the different levels of development, being: a single building, groups of buildings, the urban block, the neighborhood, towns, cities and regions. ­­

Who dreams big nowadays?

The hottest newest coolest projects of utopian city planning is a city called Telos. The project is partly funded and ran on initiative by billionaire Marc Lore, famously known as the Lebron James of E-commerce. The city will be built in the desert from the ground up, as a resurrection of the idea of cities built from blank slates. The world Telos, meaning a higher meaning in Greek stems from the cities vision to be the most open, most fair, and most inclusive city in the world.

Telos as a vision will be reached partly through a economic concept coined equitism, describing how citizens have a stake in the city. All citizens will partly own the city they live in, meaning they will have a stake in the city. When the city does better, the residents do better and visa-verse. The city is setting out to be a form of inclusive growth to combat the increasing inequality that’s taking place in the US. An extension of this idea is to track the taxes of inhabitant. As a result, all inhabitants will be aware of exactly where their money is going.

Some of the downfalls of previous utopian projects have been the lack of human perspective, as I wrote in my previous post “Utopian Retrospect”. Marc Lore however tends to change that perspective into developing a city not only for the people, but with the people.

“Cities that have been built to date from scratch are more like real estate projects, they don’t start with people at the center.”

Marc Lore, said in a promotional video

Another emerging project that is settling to stretch the boundaries of city design is the so-called Woven city placed at the foot of mount Fuji. The city is powered by Toyota to be a space of testing innovative technologies in cities, such as autonomous vehicles, AI-health tracking and big-data surveillance for inhabitants wellbeing.

the Woven City will explore ways to stimulate human interaction in the urban space. After all, human connectivity is the kind of connectivity that triggers wellbeing and happiness, productivity and innovation.”

Bjarke Ingels, in an interview about the Woven City

Both projects are examples of new urbanism approaches, which I will cover in the next chapter of my blogs

Utopian retrospect

In the 60’s, a wave of visionaries had big ideas of developing an ideal way of living through creating perfect societies in big cities. The famous Corbusier pioneered with his project named “Ville Radieuse”. Its intentions of being realized in the middle of Paris were never carried out, as it meant the demolition of huge amounts of built areas. It did however spark ideas of similar projects such as Walt Disney’s EPCOT and Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia, both designed in the late 60s. They all shared the fact that they were built on empty plateaus, or “clean slates”.

Visions of these places was to build an ideal society. Their mission consisted of correcting the chaos of existing big cities with an aim of creating well-functioning systems for people to thrive in together.

Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse vision of perfection was a city strictly divided into districts where business, entertainment and residential areas are separated. In the residential areas the goal was to accommodate the maximum amount of natural daylight, a minimum of noise and immediate closeness to recreational facilities. In his vision he also wanted to provide efficient communication networks and reduce urban traffic, which was largely considered as an enemy.

Largely inspired by Le Corbusier’s methods were the “Pilot Plan” of Brasilia developed by Costas and Oscar Niemeyer. If you cross Brasilia by plane in the night you’ll see concentrated neon lights in the shopping area, while other areas are diffusely lit, because of the segregation of uses, vehicles and people. The city is built in the form of an airplane, hence the name “the pilot plan”. Every block in the city has local facilities for everyday use and a primary school within 800 meter of every home.  The city was initially built without classical architecture, without slums. Rational planning, heaps of space and clean lines makes the layout, and the city was to be traversed by car.

Closeness to facilities were key aspects for all these plans. The initial idea was to fulfill the 5-10-15 rule. 5 minute commute to the things you use every day, 10 minutes to the places you go once a week, and 15 minutes to places you go the once a month.

Another ideal for these visionary plans was the separation of cars to the rest of the city. The plans were made to optimize mobility within the population. Also it was made to reduce the noise pollution in residential areas.

Recreational areas were highly prioritized as the visionaries recognized peoples needs also after work or school. Daylight and green areas with room for culture were means to the solution. However, when carried out in practice, these plans didn’t develop into the dreamy places they were meant to be.

Aftermaths of the plans of Ville Radieuse was that it was criticized for ignoring residents’ habits. As was Brasilia which didn’t provide public spaces for urban encounters in it’s strictly planned layout. Today two and a half million citizens live in the capital of Brasilia, that’s five times the originally planed mass. The consequence is an insufficient transport system, segregation and neglected public spaces. The same issues of healthy living, traffic, noise- and air pollution as well as transportation are still issues for urban planners today.

Ultimately, I think that these plans failed because they put a common stamp on all the needs and motivations of their users. As the scale of the plans grow, they also lost their room for change and diversity. Symmetry and predictability make up for efficient cities at a macro level, but the micro communities all over the cities might suffer from it. We can’t carry many times our own weight, we’re not ants. We also don’t thrive in monotone surrounding, and we have a big need to be heard. I do however think that extensive planning to achieve long-term infrastructural goals are necessary for a sustainable future. My initial thought is however, that planning for ideal societies from blank slates have to happen a smaller level than the macro-level these visionaries set out for.

The end game for this research is for now to find the place for interaction design within this vision of a development for a ideal society built in a more isolated environment. To get there, there initial questions I want to answer is:

How have big projects from scratch started, and what failed?

How are similar more recent projects like?

What are common working methods between urban planners, architects, designers and political deciders?

What is co-creative design contributing to this perspective?

How did they present the projects for everyone to understand and carry it through?

Utopian Design

How might we develop “ideal” societies by
designing experiences from user journeys
made in blank isolated environments?

Society is made up of lots of complex systems, such as the subway system, the roads in our cities, postal networks, and health systems. These stem from a long history of inventions and iterations. Throughout these year our culture and varying needs have changed, as has our societies which have evolved with it.

Back in the 60’s Walt Disney aspired to build a utopian city, starting with the blank canvas of 111thousand m^2 in Florida. The city was supposed to be governed by himself. The project was never realized. It did however make me think of using this mindset within service design. If such a system was developed today with concerns to the needs of people using them today, 45 years later, with the technology we have available at our hands, what would such a system look like?