Many devices that surround us are hybrid, combining digital functionality and physical form. However, more than thirty years of user interface design sought to abstract physical devices into hardware-neutral events. We must rethink design taking into account the details of physicality, whilst also learning the lessons that enabled software to flourish despite a wide and changing array of computers: from desktop PCs to mobile phones. Two long-standing design concerns are mapping: the way physical location and form of controls relates to their digital function; and feedback, which enables us to assess the correctness of our understanding of devices as well the impact of actions. One way to unpack the crucial properties of hybrid devices, is, paradoxically, to study them ‘unplugged’: first see how they afford physical manipulation and then understand the way these should connect to internal digital behaviour. Incidentally, we discover that driving backwards is both hard and easy.
Keywords: Hybrid devices, Computer-embedded devices, Information appliances, Digital unplugged, user interface design, Computer-embedded product, Digital devices