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Definition of Human Plant Interfaces

Plant Colour Patterns
Interactions between humans and plants exist since humans exist. Plants are a vital part of the human ecosystem. Surprisingly, no universally valid scientific terminology for this kind of interaction between humans and plants is determined. Biology and the social science use the term people plant relationships or Ethnobotany for describing their research scope of Human Plant Interaction. Also the art domain deals with blurry definitions. The German art field uses very often the term “botanische Kunst” or “Pflanzenkunst” [Bartel2001]. The English term is mostly “Land Art”, which does not describe artistic approaches with plants very well [KastnerWallis2010]. In Interaction Design it is even more complicated. Some projects are named as natural or organic interfaces based on the applied material. In Human Computer Interaction the term natural or organic interfaces is used completely different. Natural and organic interfaces are strongly connected to tangible and gestural interfaces [ACM2008]. It describes how humans can interact with objects in general. In an interactive art context, plant based artworks in combination with technology is mostly associated to hybrid art, which unfortunately excludes the interactive characteristic of Human Plant Interfaces. In this thesis the problem of a definition of plant based interfaces is solved pragmatically through a new revisited description of plant based interfaces.

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica an interface can interpreted differently based on the context. From a biology and botany perspective the description of biointerface is useful,

“A biointerface is the interface between a cell, a biological tissue or a biomaterial with another material” [Wikipedia: Biointerface].

From a communication technology point of view we are interested in the relationship between technology and its users. Wikipedia describes the user interface of this relationship as follows,

“The user interface, in the industrial design field of human–machine interaction, is the space where interaction between humans and machines occurs” [Wikipedia: User Interface].

The physical location of plant based interfaces is always embedded in a culture or social group. Very similar to human communication, which cannot exist without cultural communication codes (i.e. language). For this reason even the definition of social interfaces is crucial for determine plant based interfaces. The social scientist Norman Long described social interfaces as a point of intersection,

“A social interface is a critical point of intersection between different lifeworlds, social fields or levels of social organization, where social discontinuities based upon discrepancies in values, interests, knowledges and power, are most likely to be located” [Long2001, page 243].

All these three definitions are important in the context of plant based interfaces. The biointerface describes the interaction between a biological tissue and another material. In relation to plant based interfaces, the other material can be assigned to a computing technology or humans directly. If the computing technology is used as a medium between the plant and the human, then the human machine interaction definition of a user interface determines the space and the characteristics of these interactions. Especially, a systematic description of input and output signals is provided by this field. Beyond the relationship of an individual and the plant based interface, the introduced projects in this thesis enables interactions between individuals and bigger audiences as well. The impacts of these interfaces are also related to social interfaces.

In a summary, the research and usage of plant based interfaces is multidisciplinary approach that involves the fields biology, botany, computing (hardware), computer science (software), social sciences and design in its applications. During this research we define the term “Human Plant Interfaces” as the appropriate terminology for this kind of plant based design and interface strategy.

Our research explores theoretical and practical attributes of these Human Plant Interfaces in context of interaction design and interactive art.


[Bartel2001] Bartelsheim, Sabine (2001). Pflanzenkunstwerke: Lebende Pflanzen in der Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts. Schreiber, 2001.

[KastnerWallis2010] Kastner, Jeffrey; Wallis, Brian (2010). Land and Environmental Art. Phaidon Press, 2010.

[ACM2008] Special issue: Organic user interfaces. Commun. ACM 51, 6 (June 2008).

[Long2001] Long, Norman (2001). Development Sociology: Actor Perspectives. Routledge, 2001.