Academic journal article International Journal of Design

The Hedonic Haptic Player

Academic journal article International Journal of Design

The Hedonic Haptic Player

Article excerpt

Introduction

Can we enjoy silent music? Can we enjoy mere rhythms on our body? In this design case we present the Hedonic Haptic Player—a wearable device that plays different patterns of vibrations on the body as a form of music for the skin.

Using vibrations on the body is often associated with stimulating erogenous zones. This is not the intention here. We are, however, drawing on the fact that having something stimulating our body can feel good even outside an erotic context. Whether it is seeking mild distractions while performing other tasks (e.g., reading, commuting, doing dishes), using it as stress relief (to become reconnected with your body and how it feels), or simply enjoying the rhythms and the sensations they create in our body, we believe vibrations in and on the body poses a yet underexplored design space for enjoyable experiences.

In this design case we begin to explore the enjoyability of vibrations in a wearable set-up. Instead of implementing vibrations as a haptic output for some form of communication (e.g., mobile phones, computer games, robotic surgery, way finding),—we want to explore their hedonistic value and specifically their value as an enjoyable embodied experience. As such we have done a series of explorations with placements on the body, type of motors, and the materials they are embedded in, as well as composition of vibrations in strength and temporal form. As means to ground the experience in a cultural reference we can accept as wearable technology for the purpose of entertainment, we developed the Walkman of music for the skin called the Hedonic Haptic player (see Figure 1). We then composed three basic compositions of vibrations that we subjected to different forms of critique. We invited three professional critics to test it and write a two page critique, one was within product design (user experience consultant), one within new technological developments (national radio host on a technology review program), and finally an accessory designer and teacher at a design school. We further undertook to do a critique ourselves following how we also used ourselves as subjects in the design process.

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The contribution of this design case is thus the Hedonic Haptic player that we propose as a platform for further studies into the enjoyable qualities of embodied vibrations. The design case is part of our larger research agenda into hedonic experiences and novel wearable technology. Hedonism is briefly defin ed as the pursuit of enjoyable experiences. What makes something enjoyable cannot be defined a priori, only experienced and thus described and reflected upon a posteriori (cf. Crisp, 2006). There is no global measure of enjoyableness independent of the view of the subject who experiences. This puts demands on the methods we use to evaluate a design. Yet, we believe that a hedonistic approach is the best way to open up new possibilities for wearable technology that can help escape the ‘Christmas tree’ or ‘Robocop’ traps (cf. Devendorf et al., 2016). By carrying out these open-ended explorations of different vibration compositions on different places on the body we begin to understand the design space of this technology and the enjoyability of these embodied experiences. As research into the design space of embodied vibrations this Hedonic Haptic player is, however, only the beginning. We see future experiments with composers composing more elaborate vibration patterns, and we foresee a more nuanced understanding of the possible experiences created from vibrotactile expressions.

Hedonic Haptics

Hedonic haptics refers to the pleasurable sense of touch. Touch is an often-underestimated sense. It is the sense of the flesh—the body—and not the mind in the Cartesian mind-body dualism that still permeates a lot of Western thinking. In the book The Senses of Touch, Paterson (2007), Paterson offered an explanation besides the Cartesian dualism of why touch has such a lowly position among the senses. …

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