Interaction design: device without a screenPosted: December 10, 2014
Our brief for this Field project is to create a prototype and video of an object which is either designed for aliens which have just landed on earth, and therefore have no understanding of the world around them, or to create an object which you interact with without a screen. I have chosen the latter, as I feel like the first brief is too broad and almost impossible, as almost all forms of communication operate within a context and understanding of the world and society we live in. What may seem intuitive to us may be quite literally “alien” to a being that has just landed on earth, and the use of symbols becomes completely void as they would presumably have no understanding of skeuomorphs. Given this, I felt like creating an interface without a screen is a much more manageable challenge.
My immediate response to this challenge was to use haptic feedback. Wikipedia’s definition of this is “Haptic technology, or haptics, is a tactile feedback technology which recreates the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user.”. I think this is a form of communication that can be very intuitive for humans to interpret, and can be used to express a variety of different responses such as warnings, encouragement or simply just acknowledging an interaction. It is this idea of an object being able to physically acknowledge your presence and interaction with it, and being able to give a fitting response that lead me to the desire to create something which stimulates an emotional bond between the object and user. It is always fascinating to me our human capacity to form bonds and relationships with almost anything, whether that be other humans, animals, or even inanimate objects. This is especially true when we are given the sense of the object having some form of sentience, and our caring behaviour towards it being rewarded with positive feedback.
We are inbuilt with the desire to form relationships and can even project personalities onto unresponsive objects in order to satisfy our desire to nurture and care for other beings. In modern life this can often be a need which is difficult to fulfil for many, especially those without children or pets, and we then search for substitutes such as tamagotchis or soft toys. While this is largely a market which is aimed at and populated by children, I think for a significant (although by large a minority) part of the population where this desire continues on into adulthood, and this is something I know from personal experience. Myself and many other people I know enjoy engaging with these affectionate relationships with inanimate or technology based creatures and find it harmless and rewarding.
Pokemon-amie, a new feature in the new generation of Pokemon games which allows you to interact with, pet and feed your pokemon in order to make them happier. While they are nothing more than pixels on a screen, the pleased response that they give to your affection is almost as rewarding as interacting with a real animal.
Another similar object, a “tribble” from the original series of Star Trek. I have recently purchased one of these tribble toys, and find it’s movement and cries in response to any basic touch or sound extremely endearing even though it is rudimentary. Despite the fact it doesn’t have a face, and it has no discernment between positive or negative interactions, and it’s response is always the same no matter what the interaction it is still enough for us to become attached to it as a seemingly sentient creature.
I am also reminded of MurMurs which are a product that I saw at my visit to Maker Faire Rome in 2012. These are a series of seats with different personalities, which respond with certain noises when being petted or sat on. They come in several different colours, each with different personality types which have their own preferences. For example, some may like being scratched under the ear, while others prefer being rubbed on the head, and respond accordingly with positive or angry noises.
This reminds me of the popular toy Furby. While they contain many of the features I’ve been talking about, for some reason I find them far less appealing than all the previous toys, and they are largely seen as being a “craze”, a passing fashion with no long term appeal. I wonder why this is the case, and why I feel I would quickly get tired of a furby yet still find the MurMurs appealing after two years of discovering them. Perhaps it is because furbies are centered around teaching them things such as tricks and how to say your name, whereas the other objects simply respond positively to affection. It may also be to do with the over engineering of the face? While expression is important, perhaps it is a form of uncanny valley where they look realistic, yet not expressive enough to be believable, and therefore static or lack of faces are more effective.
By creating a more an object which uses a more complex series of imputs and responses such as with the Pokemon-amie, but with real world physical form and feedback as with the tribble or murmrs, I hope to create something which is highly engaging and attachable.