BumpTop demo from TED2007, now on

Anand Agarawala presents BumpTop, a fresh user interface that takes the usual desktop metaphor to a glorious, 3D extreme. In this physics-driven universe, important files finally get the weight they deserve via an oddly satisfying resizing feature, and the drudgery of file organization becomes a freewheeling playground full of crumpled documents and clipping-covered “walls.” Worried your laptop’s desktop will descend into the same disorder as its coffee-mug-strewn real-life equivalent? Fear not: BumpTop has a snappy solution for that messy problem, too.(Recorded March 2007 in Monterey, CA. Duration: 4:51) Read Anand Agarawala’s profile on

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Anand Agarawala: BumpTop desktop is a beautiful mess

So, I kind of believe that we’re in like the ‘cave-painting’ era of computer interfaces. Like, they’re very kind of- they don’t go as deep, or as emotionally engaging as they possibly could be, and I’d like to change all that. (to projectionist:) Hit me.

(windows desktop with standard toolbar and icons appears on screen)

OK. So, I mean, this is the kind of status quo interface, right? It’s very flat, kind of rigid. And, OK, so you could sex it up-

(shot of mac desktop with dock & icons)

and like go to a much more lick-able Mac, you know, but really it’s the kind of same old crap we’ve had for the last, you know, 30 years. (laughter & applause) I mean… like I think we really put up with a lot of crap with our computers. I mean, it’s point and click, it’s like the menus, icons, it’s all the kind of same thing.

(shot of cluttered computer desk with books, lamp, papers, etc)

And so one kind of information space that I kind of take inspiration from is my real desk. It’s so much more subtle, so much much more kind of visceral- you know, what’s visible, what’s not, and I’d like to kind of bring that experience to the desktop. So I kind of have a-

(fade to imitation desk computer desktop, surface littered with paper-like icons)

-this is BumpTop. It’s kind of like a new approach to desktop computing. So you can bump things-

(shoves around stacks of icons, which bump into each other, making piles, etc)

-they’re all kind of physically, you know, manipulable and stuff, and instead of that point and click, it’s like a push and pull, things collide as you’d expect them. Just like on my real desk, I can- let me just grab these guys-

(draws ring around set of icons with pointer, which puts them into a neat stack)

I can turn things into piles, instead of just the folders that we have. And once things are in a pile, I can browse them by throwing them into a grid, or, you know, flip through them like a book, or I can lay them out like a deck of cards-

(grabs top of pile with pointer and fans out stack, and shows the various things you can do to the icons, described below)

When they’re laid out, I can pull things to new locations, or delete things, or just quickly sort a whole pile, you know, just immediately, right? And then, it’s all kind of smoothly animated, so these sort of jarring changes you see in today’s interfaces-

Also, if I want to add something to a pile, well how do I do that? I just toss it to the pile, and just add it right to the top- it’s kind of nice way.

(‘tosses’ various icons into pile)

Also, some of the stuff we can do, is for these individual icons we thought- I mean, how can we kind of play with the idea of icon, and push that further? And one of the things I can do is make it bigger if I want to kind of emphasize it and make it more important.

(draws circle around PDF icon, which enlarges to fill corner of desk)

But what’s really cool is that since there’s kind of a physics simulation running under this, it’s actually heavier. So the lighter stuff doesn’t really move-

(bumps smaller icons onto side of big PDF icon)

But I throw it at the lighter guys- right?

(starts throwing big icon around, smaller icons scatter everywhere) (laughter)

So it’s cute, but it’s also like a subtle channel of conveying information, right? This is heavy, so it feels more important. So it’s kind of cool.

Despite computers everywhere, paper really hasn’t disappeared, ’cause it has a lot of, I think, valuable properties. And some of those we kind of wanted to kind of transfer to the icons in our system. And so one of the things you can do to our icons-

(draws circle around icon, and starts lifting a corner and folding it)

-just like paper, is crease them, and fold them, just like paper. Remember, you know, something for later. Or, if you want to be destructive, you can just crumple it up- and you know, toss it to the corner.

(crumples and tosses icon)

Also just like paper, around our workspace we’ll pin things up to the wall-

(grabs another icon and sticks it to the wall by the desk)

-to remember them later, and I can do the same thing here, (sticks another to opposite wall) and you know, you’ll see post it notes, and things like that around people’s offices. And I can pull them off, when I want to work with them.

So, one of the criticisms of this kind of approach to organization is that, you know, OK well my real desk is really messy, I don’t want that mess on my computer. So, one thing we have for that is kind of like a grid align, kind of-

(all icons snap to an invisible grid, he slides a few around to show them moving in an orderly fashion)

-so you get that more traditional desktop, things are kind of grid aligned. More boring, but you still have that kind of colliding and bumping. And you can still do fun things like make shelves on your desktop.

(stacks icons on ‘shelf’ on wall above desk, shelf bounces a bit as each icon is tossed on)

Let’s just break this shelf. (shelf snaps and icons fall on desk) OK, that shelf broke.

I think, beyond the icons, I think another really cool domain for this software- I think it applies to more than just icons and your desktop- but browsing photographs.

(clears desk, and photos begin falling onto it, begins tossing them around as he did icons previously)

I think you could really enrich the way we kind of browse our photographs and bring it to that kind of shoebox of, you know, photos with your family on the kitchen table kind of thing. I can toss these things around, they’re so much more tangible when- and touchable- and you know I can double click on something to-

(clicks on photo of girl sticking out tongue to enlarge it)

-take a look at it. And I can do all that kind of same stuff I showed you before. So I can pile things up, I can flip through it, I can, you know- OK, let’s move this photo to the back, let’s delete this guy here,

(fans photos card style, flips two, erases another)

and I think it’s just a much more rich kind of way of interacting with your information. And that’s BumpTop. Thanks!