Kristina Höök - experiences and pleasure in interaction design

Experiences and pleasure are words that permeate the research of Kristina Höök, professor in Interaction Design at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Already when Kristina Höök was studying computer science at Uppsala University, she knew already that she wanted to work cross-disciplinarily with issues pertaining to cognitive science and psychology.

"I was interested in human beings and social change", she says.

Back then, when she was still a student, the focus was more on usability. But this has changed, she argues, and today the focus instead is on experiences. Users want technical innovations to provide pleasure.

For around the last ten years, Kristina Höök’s research has had to do with emotions and interaction. She notes that the concept of emotions runs through all subjects today.

"Previously, emotions have been frowned upon. For example, emotions were considered to stand in the way of rational thinking", she adds.

Another thing that interests her is the significance of the human body, for example in terms of body language in dialogues. This includes issues such as how the mind affects the body, but also how the body affects the mind. She formulated the idea of a so-called affective loop to indicate the use in a system that can both influence, and be influenced by, users corporeally. A couple of Kristina Höök’s former students, Petra Sundström and Anna Ståhl, have produced doctoral theses on this specific subject.

"If I dance or laugh then this may actually affect how I feel", she explains.

Emotions and interaction can be explored for example by putting sensors on the body to learn more about oneself. Kristina Höök takes out a watch-looking object and puts it on her arm and then initiates software on her mobile phone that notes various emotive levels by measuring sweat levels on her arm.

"You can look at the results post recording and get a better understanding on your own reactions at a specific point in time", she continues.

Another concept that interests Kristina Höök is somaesthetic, a concept introduced by the philosopher Richard Schusterman. Meaning literally “the aesthetics of the body”, somaesthetic is also about experiences. For example, by doing yoga, a person can increase her or his bodily self-awareness.

"Previously, people spoke of ergonomics and talked of things being functional. But now, there is an increased realization that things should also be enjoyable, pleasurable", she explains.

Kristina Höök adds she does not oppose to functional design, but thinks that design also needs to cater to the human need for pleasure. And, she adds, design can also have an interactive element.

"If you design a bracelet for example, the bracelet may also have interactive elements in it, like interesting tactile feedback", she says.

Kristina Höök notes that design is often something added towards the end of the process of producing something. But, she adds, in somaesthetic design has to be present in the production process from the start.

"There is nothing wrong with structure, but we must not forget other aspects of life, like pleasure. That is what makes life worth living."

Emma Bayne

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