Shape and Being Shaped
Sketching with Haptics in Soma Design
Time: Thu 2023-06-08 14.00
Location: Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, Stockholm
Video link: https://kth-se.zoom.us/j/67645499199
Subject area: Human-computer Interaction
Doctoral student: Charles Windlin , Medieteknik och interaktionsdesign, MID, Interaction Design
Opponent: Professor Bill Buxton, Microsoft Research
Supervisor: Professor Kristina Höök, Medieteknik och interaktionsdesign, MID; Jarmo Laaksolahti, Medieteknik och interaktionsdesign, MID; Anders Lundström, Umeå Universtitet
Sketching is an integral part of the design process, and it often occurs in the early ideation phase where the focus is on expressing ideas, thoughts, and emotions, allowing them to take shape and making it possible to share them with others to propel the design process forwards. In principle, sketching is a process of externalising thoughts into visualisations, and it influences the creator and collaborators by enabling them to realise and reflect on the possibility and viability of their ideas and develop them further by adding to or subtracting from the sketches. This process of creation and reflection cannot be achieved by merely imagining ideas in the abstract, especially when working in teams.
In interaction design, sketching is an essential activity. It is (often) done on paper, pro- viding a way to externalise interaction ideas. Sketching in interaction design is usually followed by methods that have a similar goal but are done differently, and an example of that is concept formation or prototyping. In this regard, prototyping is a commitment to shift early, sketched ideas into concrete, refined, and specific artefacts attainable for testing and presentation. Prototypes are, in that sense, more ‘closed’ and harder to change and are thereby less evocative and inspirational than a sketch.
This thesis focuses on soma design, a process that aims to incorporate our whole living bodies into the design process. Soma design applications often engage with technology on or around the entire body, but the processes can be used for a diverse set of design challenges and interaction modalities. Common to soma design processes is how sketching is done with and through the body, integrating, acknowledging, and encouraging a first-person, subjective design stance. When digital technology enters a soma design pro- cess, the fluency of sketching slows down as every nuance of the technology, its aesthetic potential, and its affordances need to be repeatedly felt and shaped, engaging all senses. However, there is a gap in the methods and tools necessary to make digital technology fit for the sensuous, explorative, felt work done in soma design processes. This becomes particularly problematic as digital technology, social practices, and somatic change are seen as entangled in soma design and should thus be explored together.
Through a constructive design research (CDR) process, I have explored how haptic materials can be introduced in the sketching phase of a soma design process. In this regard, I created a toolkit named the Soma Bits. The Soma Bits are simple one-bit haptic actuators that enable heat, vibration, or shape-change onto the body through simple interactions. They can be combined and connected to sensors through an MIDI interface. The Soma Bits toolkit allows designers to craft haptic sketches.
The Soma Bits toolkit (in different incarnations) was developed and used in a range of soma design processes. By analysing the process of using the Soma Bits repeatedly with other groups of designers, I uncovered a key property of sketching that I frame as malleable permanence. A sketch, be it on paper or in haptic materials, needs to be expressed where others can see or touch it, creating a shared understanding of the design idea— that is, it needs to have some permanence. At the same time, changing it and, and adding or detracting elements from it should be easy, thus making it malleable. For haptic ma- terials, malleable permanence supports a mindset I frame as feeling-shaping-feeling. This mindset resonates with the aims of soma design to engage with “the lived, sentient, bodily subjectivity.” Ultimately, the Soma Bits toolkit allows for this malleable permanence, adding a designerly, crafting, creative stance to soma design and thus making the haptics materials sketchable