The Digital Quill: Inspiring Creativity through Design

Mel Woods, Jamie Shek, Deborah Maxwell

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


The recent information revolution has transformed many facets of our lives in the move from analogue to digital. Word processing is no exception; paper has been replaced with a screen and hard drive, and the pen replaced by mouse and keyboard. The mainstream deployment of touchscreen technology found in the emerging stream of mobile tablet and notebook technologies now provides opportunities to rethink the physical process of writing in digital form. Some of the earliest records of writing have been found on tablets, and although Cuneiforms were clay based surfaces from the Bronze Age, they have a conceptual link to today’s digital counterparts, however even this early civilization did not use digits to inscribe and draw, but rather a stylus formed from a blunt reed.
Touchscreen devices enable a previously unimagined range of interaction techniques, and the combination of gestures performed by digits could be considered more instinctive or natural. However, ‘finger painting’ presents
challenges when used for writing and drawing on tablet devices. Affordances, such as accuracy, dexterity and aesthetics are important factors, but the relationship between the user and stylus goes beyond ergonomics towards
the sensory. Increasing download statistics suggest widespread adoption of digital drawing, diary, and sketchbook applications, such as ‘Paper’ by FiftyThree. It is therefore timely to consider the continuing co-development of
technologies and tools and envisage the role and design of the digital stylus.
The Digital Quill project explores the user experience of a bespoke, unconventional stylus, which aims to inspire creativity by situating the user in a playful and delightful mind-set; a place where many creative and innovative ideas begin. It asks whether the user experience, specifically in creative and drawing applications, can be enhanced through the use of a stylus for touchscreen devices. Furthermore, it considers what the benefits might be of a bespoke stylus, when applied to digital sketchbook and drawing applications.
This paper will demonstrate and discuss the iterative development and early testing of the Digital Quill, a range of goose feather quill prototypes. For example, an early prototype required the user to dip the quill in an 'ink
pot' to induce conductivity, thereby allowing the stylus to function, replicating the experience of an old fashioned writing quill. A series of short, informal workshops with artists and designers explored the effectiveness of varying
digital quills against conventional styluses and the human digit, specifically eliciting participants’ emotional and drawing responses.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCHArt (Computers and the History of Art) Conference 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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