Designing for uncertain, asymmetric control: Interaction design for brain-computer interfaces

J. Williamson, R. Murray-Smith, B. Blankertz, M. Krauledat, K. R. Müller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Citations (Scopus)


Designing user interfaces which can cope with unconventional control properties is challenging, and conventional interface design techniques are of little help. This paper examines how interactions can be designed to explicitly take into account the uncertainty and dynamics of control inputs. In particular, the asymmetry of feedback and control channels is highlighted as a key design constraint, which is especially obvious in current non-invasive brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). Brain-computer interfaces are systems capable of decoding neural activity in real time, thereby allowing a computer application to be directly controlled by thought. BCIs, however, have totally different signal properties than most conventional interaction devices. Bandwidth is very limited and there are comparatively long and unpredictable delays. Such interfaces cannot simply be treated as unwieldy mice. In this respect they are an example of a growing field of sensor-based interfaces which have unorthodox control properties. As a concrete example, we present the text entry application "Hex-O-Spell", controlled via motor-imagery based electroencephalography (EEG). The system utilizes the high visual display bandwidth to help compensate for the limited control signals, where the timing of the state changes encodes most of the information. We present results showing the comparatively high performance of this interface, with entry rates exceeding seven characters per minute.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)827-841
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Human Computer Studies
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2009 Oct
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain-computer interaction
  • EEG
  • Text entry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Education
  • Engineering(all)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Hardware and Architecture


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