Ambient and Glanceable Displays

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Ambient and Glanceable displays and devices are a distinct category of information appliances that are designed to be integrated into the home and work environments. They convey minimum and specific information in a way that is designed to exploit the “preattentive” processing ability of the human brain. This enables users to absorb the information without having their attention distracted from foreground tasks.[1]

An ambient display draws the attention of the user only when needed. The intention is to focus on the main task; placing information on the screen such that user is aware of each subtle change of any form. The primary task is to create a graphical user interface (GUI) that is interactive and responds to the needs of the user. It should be able to convey important and instantaneous information without being too overbearing. Ambient displays are now used on huge systems, making the admin aware of various states like network load or weather updates. Improved versions are being created with smart sensing devices that can even detect the mood of user.[2]

The History and Concept of Ambient Devices[3]
The history of the concept of ambient devices can be traced back to the early 2000s when preliminary research on ambient devices was carried at Xerox PARC, according to the company’s official website. More recent history is closely linked with a company titled Ambient Devices. The MIT Media Lab website lists the venture as the one founded by David L. Rose, Ben Resner, Nabeel Hyatt and Pritesh Gandhi as a spin-off from the MIT Media Lab. The notion of ambient devices revolves around core concept of immediate access to information. The original developers of the idea (HYATT, ROSE, 2002) state that in the majority of cases an ambient device is designed to provide support to people in carrying out their everyday activities in an easy and natural way. An average person living in a modern society is being overloaded with abundance of information on a daily basis. Through the introduction of ambient devices into their day-to-day routine an individual gains an opportunity to decrease the amount of effort to process incoming data, thus rendering self more informed and productive (ROSE, 2002). The key issue lies within taking Internet-based content (e.g. traffic congestion, weather condition, stock market quotes) and mapping it into a single, usually one-dimensional spectrum (e.g. angle, colour). According to one of the concept originators David L. Rose this way the data is represented to an end user seamlessly, and its procurement requires an insignificant amount of cognitive load.


  1. What are Ambient and Glanceable Displays? Gartner
  2. Explaining Ambient Displays Techopedia
  3. The History and Concept of Ambient Devices Wikipedia

Further Reading

  • Ambient and Glanceable Displays: how to model and start-to-finish Ambient and Glanceable Displays outputs and recommendations Agile Project Management
  • About Ambient Displays Melissa Quintanilha
  • Ambient and Glanceable Displays: how to distinguish Ambient and Glanceable Displays and selling to the new elusive buyer Green Cooling