Physecology: A Conceptual Framework to describe Data Physicalizations in their Real-World Context


  • Conference: CHI 2022
  • Type: TOCHI journal paper
  • Goal: Investigate how we can describe physicalizations in their real-world context.


Kim Sauvé, Lancaster University
Miriam Sturdee, Lancaster University
Steven Houben, Eindhoven University of Technology







The standard definition for ‘physicalizations’ is “a physical artifact whose geometry or material properties encode data” [47]. While this working definition provides the fundamental groundwork for conceptualizing physicalization, in practice many physicalization systems go beyond the scope of this definition as they consist of distributed physical and digital elements that involve complex interaction mechanisms. In this paper, we examine how ‘physicalization’ is part of a broader ecology — the ‘physecology’ — with properties that go beyond the scope of the working definition. Through analyzing 60 representative physicalization papers, we derived six design dimensions of a physecology: (i) represented data type, (ii) way of information communication, (iii) interaction mechanisms, (iv) spatial input-output coupling, (v) physical setup, and (vi) audiences involved. Our contribution is the extension of the definition of physicalization to the broader concept of ‘physecology’, to provide conceptual clarity on the design of physicalizations for future work.