The Weird Place

A collection of outlandish HCI papers

As a HCI researcher, you get to see a lot of papers (surprise). With HCI being this really hard-to-define “interdiscipline” with components of computer science, psychology, engineering, design, and art, you sometimes come across papers that are just plain weird (and this is not criticism at all - some other HCI researchers might consider them perfectly straightforward, it’s just my own interpretation). Anyway, the following papers did leave a lasting impression (again, not judging) which is why I decided to start this little collection.

Dogs vs. Delivery Bots (2023)

a dog sniffing a delivery robot

Exploring Dogs’ Reactions when Encountering Delivery Robots in Urban Environment

So… will dogs care about delivery bots? I’m guessing that depends mostly on whether the bot is delivering pizza or not.

Open Forest (2022)

a virtual wireframe image of a tree

Open Forest: Data, Stories, and Walking-With

This is a paper about … some people walking through a forest? And you can … attach stories to the trees? Virtual treehugging? What the what now?

SonAmi (2021)

mug being lifted off a coaster

SonAmi: A Tangible Creativity Support Tool for Productive Procrastination

A coaster that will start reading me back my own manuscript when I lift up my mug. At least let me drink my coffee in silence, or I might accidentially spill on that thing.

Machine Body Language (2021)

various simulated bodyposes by an articulated smart speaker

Machine Body Language: Expressing a Smart Speaker’s Activity with Intelligible Physical Motion

Personally, I’d be content if Alexa and her ilk actually understood what I want to say, but if you feel your smart speaker thingy is lacking expressiveness, by all means, have it wiggle suggestively if it doesn’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

Muffidgets (2021)

muffin on an iPad

Muffidgets: Detecting and Identifying Edible Pastry Tangibles on Capacitive Touchscreens

In case you ever wanted to interact with tangible objects on your greasy touchscreen and eat them afterwards, here’s your chance.

Skin-On Interfaces (2019) & EyeCam (2021)

creepy webcam that looks like part of a human face

Eyecam: Revealing Relations between Humans and Sensing Devices through an Anthropomorphic Webcam

Skin-On Interfaces: A Bio-Driven Approach for Artificial Skin Design to Cover Interactive Devices

How about we make our interfaces (e.g. a touchpad) and peripherals (e.g. a webcam) look like something grown in a vat out of human flesh? How about no? Submitted by @adal_ls, and I guess I should just include any future papers from @marcteyssier here by default.

Eating Computers Considered Harmful (2020)

bowl with Raspbery Pi and raspberry white-choc icecream

Eating Computers Considered Harmful

“We […] present a diet plan for users who wish to take responsibility for their own e-waste by eating it.” This is so far beyond my personal sphere of thinking that I can’t even. If I had to hand out prizes for suggestions, this one from @DBuschek would win the Grand Prize for Weirdness.

ChameleonMask (2015)

two people, one with an iPad in front of their face, showing the other person

ChameleonMask: Embodied Physical and Social Telepresence using Human Surrogates

Since COVID happened, we all like telepresence, but why not strap an iPad in front of some poor slob’s face and have them pretend to be you, videochatting from the comfort of your own home? Next, we’ll wire up their muscles to follow our VR controllers or something. Creepy. Thanks to @mjskay for this one.

Animal Personas (2014)

an egg carton and a picture of a chicken

Animal personas: acknowledging non-human stakeholders in designing for sustainable food systems

Sure, you can try and bring the chicken along to the stakeholder meeting, but it’s probably just gonna poop on the table. This bit of weirdness was brought to you by @SimonasSkrebe.

Going to the Dogs (2014)

dog nosing a large screen

Going to the dogs: towards an interactive touchscreen interface for working dogs

Let’s put a big touchscreen at your dogs’ eye-level and turn it into a “nosescreen”! I guess it will be very gross very soon. Hat-tip to @Loechti for the hint.

AquaTop (2013)

guy sitting in bathtub, with interaction surface projected on water

AquaTop display: interactive water surface for viewing and manipulating information in a bathroom

Bored while sitting in the bathtub? Why not play some games that are projected on the water surface? Of course, you’ll have to dump white colouring into the water, because who wouldn’t want to feel like Cleopatra.

Carnivorous Robots (2009)

rotting flies on a conveyor belt

Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots

Instead of a boring old trap, put a robot in your home that digests rotting mice and flies to operate itself. I mean, why not.

Pull-Navi (2009)

robot on bike helmet, pulling wearer's ears

Pull-navi: a novel tactile navigation interface by pulling the ears

Think of an old movie where some nasty teacher is pulling a little boy by the ear for being naughty. Now imagine having a robot sitting on your head, doing the same thing to your ears to steer you around while walking.

SyncDecor (2008)

two people sitting at separate desks, with appliances synchronized

SyncDecor: communication appliances for virtual cohabitation

Let’s say you’re living in a long-distance relationship with your significiant other. Wouldn’t you also want your desk lights and trashbins to be synchronized?

Yes. Trashbins.

Poultry.Internet (2006)

a real chicken with some kind of vest, and a fake chicken being petted

Poultry.Internet: a remote human-pet interaction system

Pet your chicken over the Internet. Okay, sure… there might be a market of approx. 2-3 persons worldwide for that? Thanks to @_JimWallace for this olympic bit of weirdness.

SNIF (2005)

drawing of two dogs sniffing each other's noses, with wireless signals from their collars

SNIF: social networking in fur

Tinder for dogs? Or for dog owners? Or both? Who’s to say? Contributed by @vlztn, thanks!

PSDoom (2001)

screenshot of a Doom game, with process IDs superimposed over the monsters

Doom as an interface for process management

I admit: as a Vim user, the thought of literally killing off an Emacs process with a pump-action shotgun feels intriguing. I had no idea this actually was a paper. Contributed by @dr_eagan, thanks!


person wearing huge fake nose, with some wires hanging out

A nose gesture interface device: Extending virtual realities

Written in an age before ubiquitous touchscreens, this device is basically a Groucho Marx nose with a bunch of sensors inside that you can use to interact with on-screen content. ‘nuff said. (TBH, I’m not sure if they ever actually built this or if it’s satire, but it’s definitely weird in any case. Hat-tip to @kopfnuss for the pointer.)

Last but not least, the following three papers have all been contributed by @RaphaelWimmer, who eloquently named them “the Toilet Troika”.

The Toilet Companion (2015)

person sitting on toilet, toilet brush with wires hanging out

The toilet companion: a toilet brush that should be there for you and not for others

Let’s say you’re sitting on the toilet and your toilet brush is getting more and more excited about getting used soon, to the point where it’s jumping up and down… I would probably feel a little uncomfortable about that.

The Bottom Wiper (2015)

person sitting on toilet, closeup on automated bum wiper

A teleoperated bottom wiper

I was thinking that somebody will actually have to do user studies on these super-fancy Japanese toilets that basically do your business for you, and this one comes pretty close. Fake poo included.

You’re in Control (2003)

i cannot describe this picture, sorry

You’re in control: a urinary user interface

The picture alone says a thousand words. Play a game by peeing on the right spot in an urinal, but of course they couldn’t just exclude women from the user study, so…