Posted by Vicky Spengler on , last updated

The BBC R&D Prototyping team has been investigating how multi-touch software could support television viewing in the future. Creating software for this emerging technology presented a series of design challenges, in particular when looking at how software could be used to help plan TV viewing for that evening.

We built our multi-touch table to develop ideas and prototype concepts that can support multiple user profiles in a way that current TV remotes can't.

Although the size of the surface is well suited to a shared experience, developing an interface for multiple users was a design challenge in itself. The application needed to simultaneously support personalised elements in a shared interface and identify who owns which content. Our solution is that each user that comes to the table has an avatar and colour coding to show ownership of content.


Another challenge was to present users with a simple interface and a manageable amount of information, requiring only minimum effort to find and consume the programmes they like from hundreds of channels and on demand programmes available.

We were interested to test how users might feel about creating a personalised schedule based on their preferences and past viewing habits, and tweak it on the fly depending on their mood that evening.


If they are in the mood for a comedy programme then they can give more influence to that source of recommended programmes by stretching the object labelled Comedy. If users see a programme they don't like, they can remove it by pinching it until it disappears. Users can see how their interventions impact on the schedule as it dynamically adds, removes or shuffles programmes in front of their eyes before they commit to it and play it out on the primary display.

We opted for a slight variation on the 'pinch to shrink and spread to enlarge' design pattern, which is used to increase or decrease the size of objects on screen. In the interests of rapid development, it was much simpler to only increase the objects on the horizontal axis.


A single touch and hold on an object is used to view additional information, like the time that the programme is available to watch or if it is on demand (available now). It was particularly important to use quite simple gestures, as the type of silicone layer we used was not responsive enough for anything much more sophisticated.

For this prototype we felt it was important to strip back the visual layer and focus mainly on the mechanics of the interface. Again, for ease of use there is only one major function being performed by the system, even though it is able to detect multiple users.

Overall we believe we've solved some of the fundamental design challenges with how multiple users could interact around a multi-touch device while watching television. In the next blog post we'll be summarising what users made of the prototypes and drawing some conclusions to assist in the design of future projects.


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