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Designing Monstrous Experiences Through Soma Design

Time: Thu 2023-06-15 14.00

Location: D2, Lindstedtsvägen 5, Stockholm

Video link:

Language: English

Subject area: Human-computer Interaction

Doctoral student: Pavel Karpashevich , Medieteknik och interaktionsdesign, MID

Opponent: Professor Mark Blythe, Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK

Supervisor: Professor Kristina Höök, Medieteknik och interaktionsdesign, MID; Assistant professor Pedro Sanches, Department of Informatics, Umeå University; Jordi Solsona, Department of Computer and System Science, Stockholm University

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The room for the public defence have been altered, from room D3 to D2.

QC 20230516


There is currently a wave of research and development of novel on-body technologies and materials, including shape-changing technologies to be worn on or used close to the body. Traditional interaction design methods and interface models are not always a good fit for designing meaningful interactions with these technologies as they primarily interact with our somatic selves—not our language-oriented, symbol-processing ways of being in the world. Design researchers are therefore borrowing ideas and methods from the arts and humanities to design with and help to ”humanize” these technologies. One such approach, originating in pragmatist philosophy, is a design program named soma design. Soma design grounds design processes in our first-person sensuous, subjective experience of the world, aiming to deepen our aesthetic appreciation of ourselves and the world that surrounds us. Soma design has previously mostly addressed gentle, soft experiences. The work,I came to engage in, shifted away from the solely soft and comfortable, and instead addressed borderline uncomfortable, at times uncanny, yet evocative experiences. To shed light on and better articulate those experiences, I turned to monster theories, in particular, using the lens of the monster from the humanities, alongside the impurity concept from social anthropology.

In my work, I define these monstrous experiences as ambiguous experiences, which transgress the seemingly opposing experiential categories of comfort versus discomfort. I did so through designing with technologies that apply restriction, pressure, shape-changing, weight-shifting onto our bodies that introduced ways of alienating us from our own bodily rhythms such as our breathing rhythm. As I argue, monstrous experiences constitute one way of addressing some of the dividing dualistic rifts in interaction design. Through the analysis of my design studies, I show how monstrous experiences help to dissolve the distinction between the inside and the outside of the human body—especially when they come into contact with each other through wearable technology, questioning and bridging the boundaries of where one ends and the other begins. In my design experiments, monster experiences are bordering between the human-like and organic versus the alien and unnatural. Monstrous experiences thus expand the repertoire of soma design, adding more ”radical” design exemplars. They help with ”humanizing” the domain of uncomfortable experiences through providing a different articulation, rooted in literature and art.

My work on monstrous experiences makes two main contributions to design for somatic experiences. First, the monster can serve as an analytical lens that bridges dichotomies such as comfort/discomfort, inside/outside, or leader/follower. It provides another perspective from which such opposing categories, despite their seemingly built-in contradictions, can be united into a coherent whole. Second, monstrous experiences can serve as an estrangement method, a design tool for discovering new ways of connecting with our somatic selves, the world that surrounds us or other people, as well as new ways of using sensors and actuators to address, change, affect or alienate bodily processes. Monstrous experiences can help to explore the space between soft/hard and pleasant/uncomfortable experiences, thus, offering an alternative perspective on ”naturalness” in interaction design.