Foundations in Dance for the User-Experience

During my masters at the University of California, Irvine, I studied Effort Theory in light of design research to bring attention to physical qualities of the user-experience.  My master's thesis project, Mind-Body Connectivity, merged Effort Theory with dance improvisation to approach experience design as the impact of movement qualities required for interactivity. 


Effort Theory and Human Computer Interaction


Effort Theory, developed by dance theorist Rudolf Laban, is a sub-field of Laban Movement Analysis that focuses on the manner in which movement has been expressed.  Laban used the term Effort to describe the inner impulse to movement as the attitude in which an action is expressed. 

Effort Theory is comprised of four Effort Factors, each with two polar qualities of Effort.  These Factors are represented in the Effort Graph.  The branches of the Effort Graph may be read individually or in a group—each element is used to characterize the inner impulse, which defines the quality of a performed movement. 


Weight Factor

The use of Weight is defined by active inner intention—light movements show a resistance to gravity and impact; strong movements are sensed in the mobilization of the weightiness of the body and the active expression of applying that for strength in impact. 

The use of Weight in human-computer interaction is not exemplified by the qualities of movement that are heavy or limp, which pertains to the inner attitude of giving into gravity. A slight rotation of a digital camera changes the direction of the displayed image with a light use of Weight; in contrast, the shake application on the iPhone requires vigorous expression of strength with the Weight Factor.

Time  Factor

Time movement qualities are either quick or sustained.  A leisurely use of Time is gradual and calming; the quick use of Time is marked by a spark-like quality that has staccato, excitement and rush.  

An example of the use of Time in human-computer interaction could be represented by sustained inactivity, which can determine whether a screen goes to stand-by or remains on. A quick and sustained user-experience can also be seen in the click of a mouse and a drag of the cursor.

Space Factor 

Space movement qualities are either performed with an indirect or direct approach.  Indirect movements are flexible in focus, meandering and "roundabout," whereas direct movement qualities are condensed and channeled to a pinpointed location in space.

In human-computer interaction, the direct use of the Space Factor can be seen through the act of typing.  In contrast, a surveillance camera that records generously by tracking and capturing without any focus on a particular object or person is an indirect use of space.  

Flow Factor

The Flow Factor is related to the continuity of movement:  free movement qualities are fluent in action and inconvenient to stop; bound movement qualities are restrained and easy to stop at any moment, allowing for clarity and control.  

The bound use of Flow is shown in text messaging, which restricts the user-experience to controlled gestures; free movement qualities are seen through play with interactive installations that encourage participation through ongoing, continuous interactivity.  The Flow Factor can run parallel to the user’s familiarity with an interactive interface.  A user’s awareness of the responsive capacity of an interface can have a direct affect on the performance of Flow movement qualities for human-computer interaction. 


Dance and Movement Research

Since movement designs developed by practitioners of movement differ from those created by researchers who are untrained in movement practice, I employed dancers to investigate everyday gestures that could be performed by the average person.

In dance improvisation, an emphasis is made on shifting between the identity of a body and the subject it presents. [Foster, 1985]  Often, dancers utilize improvisation to conduct preliminary research for performance production and dance choreography. 

For my thesis, I have applied dance improvisation to manifest the motion of limbs and body as the effect of environment; below, I have described a series of movement research sessions (based on dance improvisation) that were developed to make visible an inner exertion of bodily preoccupation as the study of the impact of action for the iGameFloor.


Case study

The iGameFloor was created by a team of researchers from the University of Aarhus, Denmark, to generate focus on computer games for children that veer away from sedentary TV and desktop activities; it was chosen for this case study for its energetic potential, which was also part of the reason it was installed in a public school setting.  The iGameFloor is an interactive floor that has "a 12 m2 glass surface with bottom projection and camera based tracking" system that can follow the contact points of up to 30 limbs (e.g. foot, hand, knee, etc.) at a time.  [Grønbæk et al., 2007]  

Effort analysis of the igamefloor

  • Weight:  The glass surface of the iGameFloor does not recognize any form of pressure, and so the Weight Factor does not apply to the user-experience with the iGameFloor.
  • Time:  The use of Time on the iGameFloor can be tracked by contact on the surface that is either prolonged or momentary. 
  • Space:  The iGameFloor platform can detect the Space-movement quality by tracing the direction in which contact points are traveling. For example, the pattern of steps can determine whether a user is moving in an encompassing format without any specific direction, or straight towards a channeled point in Space. 
  • Flow:  When the iGameFloor is responsive to any form of contact with the surface, the user is set to experience free Flow-movement user-experiences; in contrast, when it only allows the user to interact through clearly defined contact points, the interface induces bound Flow-movement qualities.

Movement Research Method

Session 1.1:  Movement qualities assigned to teams A (left) and B (right)

Session 1.1:  Movement qualities assigned to teams A (left) and B (right)

Improv Session 1.2:  Movement qualities assigned to teams A (left) and B (right)

Improv Session 1.2:  Movement qualities assigned to teams A (left) and B (right)

Improvisation Sessions 1.1 and 1.2

  • Session 1.1: Dancers were asked to improvise the counterbalance of perceived Space and Flow movement qualities with the mood induced by those same Effort elements.  The first session explored contrasting Space and Flow movement qualities in relation to a shared use of quick and sustained movement qualities to exemplify the self- regulating aspect of Time on the iGameFloor.
  • Session 1.2: Dancers were re-grouped into new teams of A and B. The new team A was instructed to create movements with indirect Space and bound Flow movement qualities, and team B was assigned to improvise in relation to the A-team with opposition—through direct Space and free Flow qualities.
Improv Session 2.1:  Transitions from  indulging  to  fighting  Effort qualities

Improv Session 2.1:  Transitions from indulging to fighting Effort qualities

Improv Session 2.2:  Transitions from  fighting  to  indulging  Effort qualities

Improv Session 2.2:  Transitions from fighting to indulging Effort qualities

Improvisation Sessions 2.1 and 2.2

  • Session 2.1: Dancers were asked to begin with indirect, free and slow qualities of movement. The leader was given the option to shift the Space, Flow or Time Factor to a fighting quality at anytime, so long as she returned the state of that Factor to the original indulgent quality before transforming another Factor; the follower responded by matching a response in relation to the Factors presented.
  • Session 2.2: Opposite to 2.1, 2.2 focused on transitions from direct, bound and quick movement. The leader transitioned qualities of Space, Time and Flow from fighting to indulging qualities with the requirement that she always return to direct, bound and quick time before shifting into indirect, free, or slow movement. The role of the follower for 2.2 remained the same as in 2.1 — to respond with movements of the same Effort quality as the leader.
Improv Session 3:  Contrasting qualities of Effort, assigned to individual dancers

Improv Session 3:  Contrasting qualities of Effort, assigned to individual dancers

Improvisation Session 3 

  • Each team was directed to improvise in response to elements of indulgent and fighting movements performed by other dancers.  A simple set of rules was developed for the session:  1) Three dancers were allowed to improvise within the space at a time, 2) the dancers were instructed to choose between indulgent or fighting Effort qualities, 3) the dancers were required to continue improvising within those qualities until a dancer outside the square taps him/her out, and 4) an entering dancer had the choice to change or maintain the same Effort qualities for improvisation.


Session 1 Results

  • From session 1.1, it is inferred that a direct application of Space and bound qualities of Flow creates the physical experience of hard work. Bound and direct qualities of movement created by the game Stepstone are likely to induce iGameFloor users to experience a loss of control. In contrast, the indirect use of Space and free Flow movement qualities allowed ease to adjusting between polar qualities of Time. Indirect Space and free Flow user-experiences induce a carefree sensation for interactive control.
  • In session 1.2, concentrated use of Space and free Flow movement qualities were found to incite immediate excitement, while an indirect application of Space with bound Flow gave the experience of losing control. Direct Space and free Flow user-experiences on the iGameFloor can be used to provoke anticipation, and indirect Space and bound Flow user-experiences can cause the player to slip into a game that does not offer any means to create solid control. The Pong game developed for the iGameFloor utilizes bound and indirect movement qualities, which suggests that players do not feel fully aware of how their movements control the game.

Session 2 Results

  • From the second improv sessions, it could be inferred that a transition from an indirect to direct use of Space posed a challenge for movers.  Comments from movement research session 2 also suggested that games for the iGameFloor should change the use of Time between quick and slow movements gradually for the player, if at all. In addition, session 2 implied that never-ending transitions between free and bound Flow movement qualities are entertaining for the user-experience on the iGameFloor. 
  • Results of session 1 and session 2, combined, infer that a balance of immediate gratification and accomplishment in completion of challenges could be brought through the user-experience of transitioning amid polar qualities in Space and Time.  These results suggest that players of the iFloorQuest game, which lacks transitions in Flow and utilizes free and direct movement qualities, are likely to lose interest in the game after a short period of time.

Session 3 Results

  • An evaluation of the third movement research session suggested that, for multiple players on the iGameFloor, aggressive interactions are appealing for control. In contrast, an interface that allows the user free-for-all interactions is less appealing for continued interactivity. For single players, movement research session 3 showed that lenient interactions within strict limitations are preferable to a game that requires aggressive interactions within moderate confines.

Results Summary

  • In combination, for multiple players, each player should be given the potential to pilot at least one “object”—a graphic—towards a common “goal.” The graphic should have the capacity to escape from the “grasp” of the player’s contact points on the iGameFloor. In short, unpredictability and an increased flexibility of movement is appealing for multi-player interaction.  Challenges may be posed by increasing the graphic’s ability to escape; similarly, the players may be induced to build skill by gradually limiting the amount of time allotted to control the object, from prolonged towards momentary contact with the iGameFloor. Short intervals transitioning from control to freedom should be included through opportunities that to allow all of the players to openly collect points without the need to manage their “object” before returning together towards a common goal.    
  • For single players on the iGameFloor, the combined results of the three movement research sessions suggest that strict requirements for interactivity should define the structure of the game, where the player is given an opportunity for deliberation prior to making a “play.”  Challenges that require an increased precision of movement could be imposed through opportunities that physically hinder the player, requiring an early awareness of body dexterity prior to action; skill can be built by limiting options that allow prolonged contact once a player has begun to complete a task. In single player games, transitions from lenient to exacting contact points for the user-experience should be made to give the player the sensation of advancing towards completion of a larger purpose—a collectively demanding “destination”—on the iGameFloor.


Feedback from the movement research sessions were combined to create two templates for the iGameFloor.  These resulting movement templates suggest guidelines for the development of physically collaborative multi-player games and competitive single player games that do not consider use of the Weight Factor for interactivity.

For the iGameFloor, these templates show a substantial improvement in comparison to existing applications that were in use for physical interactivity.  In contrast to existing applications that have already been developed for the iGameFloor, which utilized two to three movement qualities for the user to experience, the movement templates generated from the combination of Effort Theory and dance improvisation incorporates six variations of movement for the user to experience. 

Additionally, because of the universal nature of Effort Theory and dance improvisation, the templates are applicable to any interface that utilizes a combination of qualities of physical expressions with Time, Space, and Flow Effort Factors to support essential aspects of physical human-computer interactions that connect creativity in movement with enjoyment and play. 



Foster, S. L.. (1985). The Signifying Body: Reaction and Resistance in Postmodern Dance. Theatre Joural. Vol. 37. No.1. 45-64.

Grønbæk, K., Iversen, O. S., Kortbek, K. J., Nielsen, K. R., Aagaard, L.. (2007). iGameFloor: a platform for co-located collaborative games. ACM International Conference Proceeding Series. Vol.203. 64-71.