DIRTI for iPad

User StudioFR


Production / Professional


Matthieu Savary, Denis Pellerin, Florence Massin, Diemo Schwarz, Roland Cahen


While conducting interaction design work within a sound oriented research team, our explorations led us to wonder if and how we could change the relationship that we, humans, have with tangible controllers when interacting with real world simulations. Indeed, we were working on trying to control thousands of particles on the screen in the most natural, intuitive fashion possible. We figured there was no better way than by actually controlling real world particles!

So when creating this new “DIRTI” (Dirty Tangible Interface), we set our minds on making something a little less accurate, while a lot more subtle, constantly adapting, almost alive. Tackling the cold, abrupt interaction that traditional controllers impose on us… It was all about interaction design politics.

You, the user, interact with your machine by moving the material around in a semi-transparent dish. Anything that you’re producing from within the DIRTI is not 100% accurate, but it’s infinitely refined, expressive and subtle. You can’t cancel any action or go back to a previous, default position, but you can control any graphics or sounds with amazing expressivity, just like with real world instruments. Say, a violin. Not even kidding.


DIRTI for iPad is the compact, integrated product version of the Dirty Tangible Interface. It’s super easy to setup and super easy to use. Especially for kids for whom using touch tablets is practically a second nature. When we decided to develop the iPad version of the DIRTI controller, we had one thing only on our minds: we wanted to build the simplest, least “techy”, most familiar interface possible for kids to play with. At the same time, it’s really a rebel controller: it encourages them to spread tapioca all over the place! We just couldn’t wait until this would happen… and it did right away.

Ok, we didn’t really have one thing only on our minds: we also wanted to develop an open device. Based on Raspberry Pi, we’re convinced that accessible and open technology allows people to explore new fields and bring great ideas to life. A great palette of apps can be developed to use what comes out of our controller: Terrain editors for game level design, urban planning apps, science learning tools… Letting people express themselves by developing new ideas based on DIRTI can lead them to engage and deliver meaning to the world.


Kids are the best beta-testers you can find: if it’s not a blast, they’re gonna let you know straight away. They just won’t use it, period. But if they like it, then they really, really like it and it’s the most rewarding thing! At the “Maison des Petits” of the CENTQUATRE in Paris (one of the French capital’s main cultural venues), we’ve had kids under 4 years-old play for over an hour, on their own. It’s amazing how they get it. It gives them a really close relationship with the graphics and sounds that are produced by our app on the iPad.

Most importantly, it’s wonderful to see how absorbed kids are with things that they touch, things that they mould. We really believe that haptics and non-standard touch interactions are under-rated learning tools.


The iPad’s Graphical User Interface is right there under the user’s fingers, and the relationship between the graphics of the application that we developed and what happens within the glass dish is self-explanatory. Same goes for the sounds.

Of course the very first prototype was far from perfect: many updates were needed to reach the point we’re at nowadays… it’s evolved tremendously. But the philosophy behind it has not changed a bit along the process. We really see our controller as an illustration of the FabLab movement, with its identity residing in its building principles: iterative prototyping & exploration.

The sound part of the app was created and developed by researcher Diemo Schwarz from IRCAM (France’s national sound and music research institution) with whom the DIRTI concept has evolved from the start, and sounds were composed by sound designer Roland Cahen.

Working along with researchers allowed us to develop a technology for a deeper, more expressive and more engaging interaction. This was achieved through a joint collaboration, a dialogue between technology and design which resulted in a great product, cool software and even a research paper presented at the 2013 CHI conference in Paris.


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