What are Public Displays?

When I tell people that my PhD is about eye tracking and gaze-based interaction with public displays. I often get this question: what is a public display? Actually turns out that finding a definition is kind of challenging. If you google for the term, you often get results like this: Public display of affection – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

So what is a public display? I usually answer: It’s a display whose users are not necessarily its owners.

I just made this up, actually. But this really fits well what the research community refers to as “public displays”. Basically, an ATM is a public display, ticket machines are also public displays. However there is the vision of having a “Pervasive network of displays” i.e. a huge network of displays spread across the city, that are interconnected. In this vision, displays are everywhere. We are already starting to see them in the streets (like those in Oulu), shopping malls, universities, airports, etc.. These displays are moving from static advertising displays to interactive ones, that provide different benefits to the users (or we like to refer to them as “the passersby”). Interaction with these displays is mostly using touch nowadays, but there are already public display deployments that employ interaction via mid-air gestures (e.g., waving your arm), or via eye-gaze.

Sometimes researchers use other terms such as “Pervasive displays”, “Ubiquitous displays”, “situated display”, “digital signage” and “wall-sized display”. Most of the time they refer to the same thing. “Public” is also a flexible term; it refers to displays that are outdoors, as well as those indoors in public spaces such as libraries.

You can find papers about public displays at CHI (e.g., Looking Glass), UbiComp (e.g., TextPursuits), MobileHCI (e.g., MirrorTouch), UIST (e.g., GravitySpot) and more. There is even a dedicated conference for public displays called PerDis.

A nice introduction to public displays can be found in this book. Also this paper (which is available for download) can give you a nice jump start into the field.