Open Sesame

How much do you enjoy the security technologies in your life? Think of how excited you get each time you get to type in a PIN. Don’t you just adore picking passwords with at least one number, an uppercase letter, and a special symbol? No? The idea of enjoyable security is very nearly an oxymoron.

Gesturing at the door
With Open Sesame we are working to flip the security world on its head with the notion of pleasurable security. Open Sesame replaces the traditional proximity key card system at our lab’s doorway with a gesture-based system that incorporates a variety of features to maximize pleasure in the security interaction. Existing research demonstrates a strong link between how we move and how we feel. Our system is designed to harness this effect and to purposefully serve our users’ various moods when they enter our doorway.

Researchers to date mainly frame usability and security only in terms of minimizing frustration. This is because security system designers usually begin their work with the limits of the technology involved rather than an understanding of the behaviors and motivations of their users. Post-It notes of passwords stuck to computer monitors are the consequence of security that users dislike. And so security that is not usable—and thus not enjoyable—is not secure. With Open Sesame, we aim instead to maximize enjoyment and in so doing achieve good usability.

Jordan's Hierarchy of Customer NeedsRemote sensing technologies are becoming ever more capable and ever cheaper, introducing the possibility of a much different security system experience in the near future. At some point soon, it may simply be more cost effective to install powerful sensors at every door of a facility than to distribute physical tokens to every individual within an organization. Remote sensing in an access control system (like our lab doorway) means biometric sensing. Biometric sensing by its very nature cannot be 100% perfect in identifying users. Beyond the obvious challenges, perhaps biometrics also affords a unique design opportunity.

Will users be forgiving of inevitable biometric recognition failures if they otherwise like the system? If users enjoy a security system will they engage with it rather than circumvent it? Do the most enjoyable gestures also contain the most information? Might a pleasurable system yield better recognition results than a more traditional approach? Can moments of pleasure in everyday activities increase overall wellbeing? Will the novelty of our approach quickly fade? These are a selection of our research questions.

Test setup
Open Sesame uses a variety of techniques for face matching, body geometry matching, and gesture recognition. The system identifies an authorized user at a distance and recognizes one of several gestures (unique to that user's way of moving through space) to unlock the door to our lab.

We are bringing together approaches from Game Design, Biometrics, and 3rd-wave Human Computer Interaction with the intent of creating momentary experiences that are a satisfying part of one’s daily routine—more like drinking a morning coffee than recalling the quadratic equation. We posit that unlock gestures and support for user moods will yield pleasurable interactions that increase participation in our security system and thus maximize efficacy. We also believe pleasurable interactions in security will yield a myriad of other benefits and opportunities yet to be realized.



Michael Karlesky, Edward Melcer, and Katherine Isbister. Open Sesame: Re-envisioning the Design of a Gesture-based Access Control System. In CHI '13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA '13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1167-1172.


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