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In real workspaces documents are piled in casually arranged in a way that subtly conveys information to the owner. This expressiveness is lost in today’s gooey desktops. We explore pen-centric interaction techniques for manipulating documents on a physics-enabled desktop inspired by real world workspaces using piles as the basic organizational entity. When dragged documents are attached to pen position by a spring to give them a more physical feel. Documents bump and displace each other in a realistic manner as they might do on a physical desktop. We can quickly toss similar documents like these PDF’s into a corner for dealing with later. Their appearance suddenly affords that they are in an organized state. Holding the pen barrel button lets us ruffle through and nudge documents as if the pen had some physical geometry.


When we lasso select multiple documents springy joints are created between them so the spatial relationships are maintained. To more explicitly organize and group documents we can create a tidy pile out of them. A tidy pile can be created by lassoing around documents and then crossing the icon that appears at their centroid. We call this novel technique lasso and cross allowing fluid selection and pile creation in one stroke; undo and redo is supported by uncrossing and re-crossing. The icon facilitates a discovery indicating additional functionality and aims transition from novice to expert. For more complex interactions we use a novel technique called lasso menu where we fluidly lasso documents and invoke commands with a control menu displayed when the lasso is completed. The direction of the stroke from here on specifies a parameter. The degree of tidiness in this case. Tightening all the way creates a tidy pile.

Alternately, we can use the pigtail gesture for command indication. Hovering over a pile reveals its pile widgets, allowing specific transient browsing of contents. Hovering for some time reveals an explanatory tool tip. The grid widget offers a standard grid view of contents, smoothly animated to avoid confusing the user. Larger piles benefit from a fisheye view. Compression browse keeps items in place maintaining context while revealing items from the top down. Techniques that resemble real world manipulations including fanning out a pile like a deck of cards on the user drawn path or leafing through like pages of a book. The messy/tidy widget allows us to recollect pile purpose by viewing the original messy poses or use little of this information in a messy pile. Pulling all the way on the widget breaks the pile as indicated by the icon. We can lock down a pile for further manipulation in one of the browsing layouts with a pressure lock by reaching maximum pen pressure. Note, the cursor turns hollow indicating a pressure lock is possible.

Documents may be deleted or duplicated by invoking the command from the lasso menu. While offering a realistic feel we are not constrained to realistic interactions. For example we can sort a subsection of the pile items by type, we can change pile order by dragging items to a new location. On real desks people use subtle information to convey information about documents and piles such as positioning them so they stick out. We support this in our prototype. Documents can be reoriented to convey a separation of content. Alternatively they can be pulled out of the pile slightly. If pulled out far enough they’re moved from the pile and are made the active selection. With the pen still down we can fluidly add these to another pile by crossing one of its widgets all in one continuous stroke. We call this novel insertion technique drag ‘n’ cross.

Other ways to add documents to a pile include dragging items to a pile. To quickly and casually add items to a pile we can toss them in its general direction. For more precise placement we can dwell and scrub or use drag ‘n’ cross. We do not need to explicitly pile documents before applying our browsing tools. A temporary grid layout on these casually placed documents lets us view occluded items. Compression browse reveals items in place without disturbing their position. While offering a variety of document and pile manipulations our interface is largely modeless. The lasso menu and pile widget techniques return to the default state when the pen is lifted. Our techniques work with any mixture of arbitrarily sized objects.

Here we demonstrate our techniques with photos and windows. We pile up this bunch of photos and this collection of document windows or use hierarchical piles to merge both piles with one of the previous pile creation techniques, then sort by type. Now we browse them. When broken the hierarchical pile returns to its components with changes folded through. Real paper’s thin light affordable and flexible, affording manipulation and reshaping. We aim to support this with several techniques. Users can freeform crease or fold a document in a way that people fold corners of books to indicate importance.

To emphasize this important document we make it larger and heavier. It pushes aside smaller icons and is more sluggish to move when bumped by them. To further escalate its importance we can pin it up to the wall with a pressure lock, tearing it off later with a tug. The lasso menu can be used to re-orientate an item, moving the panel along either axis. Pressure locking makes it stand up on end. Alternately, to de-emphasize documents we can crumple them up. This gives documents an intermediary state before deletion. If we want to find a document but only have a general spatial idea of where it is we can invoke the exploding piles technique. This technique explodes and collapses piles into grid view according to pen hover. To keep the desktop from getting too messy we can instate non-physical restraints, for example keeping items axis aligned and always easily…

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