Portals: TARZ

Mediating patient privacy while informing doctors of vital information

Simple and intuitive user interaction is the dogma for interaction design, yet in our physical world new products often sacrifice simplicity in the name of new functionality. Portals is our concept of integrating meaning and functionality to our everyday objects within their natural flow of interaction to help users navigate through our physical space. It alerts users with relevant information hidden behind the doors at appropriate times through shape change without adding extra interaction with the artifact. We developed prototypes in the context of hospitals and automobiles: TARZ mediates privacy for the patient while informing doctors of vital information and CASE improves cyclists' safety.

TARZ is a shape changing door handle that can transform states between an ambient display and a functional door handle that affords an informative transition with the goal of subtly informing those who interact with it of the condition of the patient behind the door.

MAS.834 Tangible Interfaces | 2014
MIT Media Lab
Instructor: Hiroshi Ishii

Collaborators Xavi Benavides, Paola Mariselli, Ana Torres, and Luke Vink

Contextualizing the Two Spaces: Traveler and Inhabitor

The doctor [traveler] can learn about the patient's [inhabitor] vital information without entering his/her room

Using Shape Change to Encourage Favorable Reactions and Convey Message

Based on the distance from the door, TARZ has different functions.


Wave form shows patient vital status

Relaxed long wave shows normal status, while a faster wave indicates a need for immediate attention


"Porcupine" mode

Handle saves traveler's face by informing the patient's need for privacy


Increases resistance + suggests behavior

Handle resists the interaction and lets the user know a slow entry would be the best [i.e. patient is sleeping]

Earlier Design Process

Concept Development

Before narrowing down to TARZ and CASE, we explored various mappings for physical space and interaction that we encounter on a daily basis.

Shapes as Media to Inform Meaning and Function

We conceptualized shape changing: TARZ takes after stiffness and form changing aspects, and CASE takes after textural change.


Making a door easy or difficult to open. Slows down the user (i.e. TARZ door resistance)


Nested affordance to describe conditions behind the door. Effective for quick interaction (i.e. CASE car door handle)


Can be highly controlled for detailed mappings. User avoids interaction (i.e. TARZ patient sleeping mode)

Quick User Testing

We made quick and dirty samples of the new textures on the regular door handles to test user reactions. These are three of our samples. All users indicated noticeable changes in the texture of the handles for all of our samples. Most liked the soft texture on the ends of the image and expressed discomfort and surprise for the middle porcupine prototype.