Talking Mats for iPad

supporting communication

Talking Mats (TM) is a unique low-tech interactive communication framework devised through research projects at the University of Stirling. Since its original development TM has been used with many people (adults and children) both with and without communication difficulties in the UK and abroad and has won several awards. Until now TM has been purely a low-tech tool but with the technology now available it is now possible that TM could be successful as a high-tech format which will easily record users' views.

The project is to develop a version of TM for tablet devices such as the Apple iPad. It is believed the technique would be more appealing to certain users if it were available on tablet devices.

Phase One

Phase one of this project focused on developing a set of high-fidelity wireframes which were then tested with two groups of talking mats facilitators*. These session included staff from IRISS and Talking Mats to guide the users through the wireframes.

*Talking Mats facilitators are usually specialists with skills in communicating with people who, for one reason or another, may have difficulty in communicating.


The first low-fidelity version of the wireframes were sketched out on paper before being re-created in Adobe Illustrator.


The wireframes were created as high-fidelity to match the look of an real iPad application ('app') as much as possible and were presented to the groups on iPads. This also allowed the users to touch and interact with a iPad (which most had not already experienced) to gauge the feel and responsiveness. Full size colour paper versions were also produced.


Each session started with an introduction to IRISS and a walk-through of the wireframes with questions and discussions. It would be fair to say that at each session there was a degree of scepticism at the start over what a digital version of TM could deliver.

During the testing it was emphasised that the app was not a replacement for TM and it would not be suitable for all users.


The testing lasted for just over an hour and was well received with valuable suggestions and discussion from the users which is summarised here.

Generally good with a healthy level of questioning regarding how the app would work.

Suggestions and comments from all participants were collected (see below). Some screens needed particular explanation as there was information added via animation which was not able to be shown in this version, such as the transition from choosing a tile to the placing of a tile.

Explore Mats

  • Ability to have folders/subfolders
  • Date the Mat was created/altered
  • How to ensure confidentiality of patients information
  • Folders or rooms for Mats - these folders could also be password protected for security

Building Mat

  • Reminder of active topic
  • Smaller tiles / adjust spacing
  • Edit top scale - Remove middle | Change order of Positive and Negative | Change icons
  • Range of top scales - 3 or 5
  • Add a tile/blank - Draw with finger (stroke width,stroke colour, erase)
  • Scale tile - up/down
  • Undo button - unlimited
  • Double tap tile to turn around and make notes on the rear of each
  • Double tap mat background to make note about the mat as a whole
  • Audio record the session - Toggle on/off
  • Concern over emailing - can it be encrypted?
  • Rotate screen to re-flow the layout to get more vertical space
  • Add Pinch Zooming
  • Highlight the tile that has just been chosen
  • Pull symbol form different topic set
  • Change border colour
  • Change text
  • The Blank tile / drawing option would be especially beneficial for children.
  • Option to take photographs of service users is a good idea, again, particularly for children
  • Tile resizing option would be welcome
  • On the choose a tile screen - limit the how many appear at once. Fewer would be better for some users e.g children

Printing/PDF version of Mat

  • Visual version of the Mat as is with a table below listing all notes and tiles used
  • Possible NHS difficulties (cross that bridge when we come to it), if they have an iPad at all then we're 90% there

Concluding feedback

All participants were very enthusiastic by the end of the meetings and could see great potential for the iPad version with their various client groups.


Based on the feedback in the user testing phase, there is definite interest in a tablet version of Talking Mats. This method of delivery brings real value too given that tablets have sensors such as cameras and microphones, Internet connectivity and speakers.

What's Next?

In September 2012 Talking Mats put the development of a fully functioning tablet version out to commercial tender. For information on when the tablet version will be available please contact Talking Mats.