Introduction to Ephemeral User Interfaces

Ephemeral (i.e. transient) phenomena and materials shape our perception of the world: they are part of the rich experiences of life. Experiences are so precious because they are temporally restricted. Nature has designed organisms and things not to last forever. This strong concept of the world around us has yet not been consequently applied to computer technology and user interfaces.

It is timely to systematically explore the design space for user interfaces that focus on ephemerality as design concept. Starting from a material perspective, we address this by introducing the concept of ephemeral user interfaces, a class of user interfaces that contain UI elements that are intentionally created to last for a limited time only. This work is motivated in three ways: first, the ephemeral is a natural phenomenon that yields potential for application in HCI but has yet not consequently been thought of as part of reality-based interaction; second, there is a need to address the cognitive overload due to the huge amount of data that gets represented; and third, this is an important topic for the research field of tangible user interfaces (TUIs) that deal with diverse materials and rich textures for interaction.

Ephemeral user interfaces constitute an approach to bring the described aspects of ephemerality and related aesthetical experiences into human-computer interaction from a material perspective. We define ephemeral user interfaces as follows.

Definition: Ephemeral User Interface

Ephemeral user interfaces are a class of user interfaces that contain at least one UI element that is intentionally created to last for a limited time only. The durability of the UI element is determined by its intrinsic material properties in combination with its surrounding ecosystem. While their ephemeral UI element(s) exist(s), ephemeral user interfaces provide a rich and multisensory user experience. They may deliberately be designed to offer only partial or imperfect user control. In: (Döring et al. 2013)

Ephemeral User Interfaces

On this webpage, we have started a collection of ephemeral user interfaces including art installations, research projects and commercial products. We will subsequently add further works. If you know other great examples and relevant work in this field please let us know and send a mail to tanja.doering(at) For more background information, please check our related publications.

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