Fidget Widgets

Do you doodle, fidget, or fiddle with things on your desk while you work?  A surprisingly large number of people do. Perhaps these behaviors are not nearly as trivial as they might seem.

You can help with this research! Tell us about the things you play with while you work.

Toys at our lab

Fidget Widgets are playful interactions, not games.  They are small, tangible, programmable interactions that exist not to accomplish a task but instead to experience the interactions themselves.  With them we aim to allow you to choose to create a small boost to creativity or focus or calm while you work just by selecting an interaction you “mindlessly” engage in your physical work space. Think of Fidget Widgets like a sampler box of chocolates where each flavor is a slight change to your internal state.  We envision that Fidget Widgets could even tangibly embody the data of your digital work-spaces — as in actually playing with the numbers in your spreadsheet, for example.

A considerable amount of research demonstrates the fascinating and powerful interrelation of bodily movement, cognition, and emotional state. Manipulating physical objects with the hand is known to activate the brain in ways like nothing else. Infinite Bubble Wrap Fidget Widget Researchers also suspect that the brain regulates its base level of activity by activating unconscious bodily motions. And how we move has been shown to measurably impact our emotions. Our goal with Fidget Widgets is to incorporate these effects in playful, tangible interfaces unconsciously engaged with your hands.

Digital systems lack “margins.” Our productivity software tools provide no margin.  Your word processing software doesn't really support doodling — it’s entirely focused on word processing. And yet in the physical space enveloping our digital productivity applications, we doodle and fiddle with playthings while we work. Our work explores this transitional area between our software and physical work spaces.  Fidget Widgets are not merely digital experiences that mimic their analog counterparts. Rock the Cradle Fidget Widget  Rather, and paradoxically, the aim of Fidget Widgets is to purposefully impact productivity without providing any productivity tools.

The Fidget Widgets project is in its early stages. User studies have revealed very positive reactions both to the concept and early prototypes. These same user studies have revealed that our next iterations must be highly textured, pliable, and tactile. Both the design of these Fidget Widgets themselves and the methods to study their effects will require highly creative approaches that we are currently developing.



Michael Karlesky and Katherine Isbister. Fidget Widgets: Secondary Playful Interactions in Support of Primary Serious Tasks. In CHI '13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA '13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1149-1154.

Michael Karlesky and Katherine Isbister. Designing for the Physical Margins of Digital Workspaces: Fidget Widgets in Support of Productivity and Creativity. Accepted for publication at the 8th International Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction (TEI 2014).



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Get Creative at Your Desk With a Little Playtime – Wall Street Journal

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