Empowering connections through personal touch

Problem Space

The personal touch ring is our experiment to capture attention to humanizing communication in a digital era. It is meant as a tool to imagine new ways and behaviors to empower the connection between two people and to close the long-distance gap through the personal touch.

EKA

In today’s hyper-connected world, texting is one of the main communication activities. However, the current texting experience can be very much improved by the empowerment of sensations and by unlocking the power of handwritten text and of haptic design. In contrary to face-to-face conversation, during texting, the emotions are not transmitted to the receiver. The typeface hides the emotions and the conversation starter becomes a regular notification that can get lost in all the other notifications that we receive during the day. Our project sets to experiment on how to bring touch and handwritten text back to our lives. So we are asking ourselves: What if we could have a personal accessory that would enable us to send hand-written messages to our loved ones through touch?

hero image

This project proposes the creation of a new personal device, using haptic technology, to allow human beings to have a different experience of each other’s messages, through the study of the long-distance relationship scenario. In this scenario, design, and especially interaction design has inherent power to bring attention to how the newly developed technologies could affect our existence. The goal of the device is to is solve current problems of sending messages via smartphones and to close the emotional gap as much as possible for those who experience a physical gap.

Approach

design principlesThrough design research, we have focused on communication and how people can be connected to another human being. After numerous interviews, experimentations and co-creation sessions we distilled the insights into a list of design principles for crafting the solution. Then we went through many iterations of ideations, prototyping, testing, and further refinements to reach the end result.

1) Create a close collaboration between digital and physical design

When designing new communication devices designers should ask: how might we design experiences to connect people, enabled by digital in a physical world? In our solution, we should create a close collaboration between the digital and physical worlds.

2) Design for the personal touch

We have two hands and ten fingers and there are so many things that we can feel through them, yet we still feel a cold smooth glassy surface when we want to send a message to a loved one. Touch shouldn’t be limited to swiping, scrolling and tapping. It can generate affection and bond between people; it can indicate the presence and can be used to draw attention to prioritized messages. Enabling a personal touch in the technology is critical — and should be one of the main components of the design.

3) Let your design evoke emotions

Designers need to deliver a new generation of experiences enabled by digital that thrill and excite. The coming together of physical and digital design opens up a wealth of new possibilities and opportunities, so it is time to design experiences that will evoke emotions and will engage users in many different ways. Ease of use isn’t the only measure of positive user experience. Designs should have flourishes of anything that incites passion and makes the person feel engaged and energized. As Don Norman once said: “attractive things do work better—their attractiveness produces positive emotions, causing mental processes to be more creative, more tolerant of minor difficulties.

Design Concept

ring components

We can close the long-distance gap through a personal touch device by enabling people to send handwritten/hand-drawn messages to each other. The device is a smart ring empowered by haptic technology together with motion sensors and it is covered with a skin-like rubber material to increase flexibility. Your index finger becomes your pen, the ring becomes your communication device and the touch becomes the conversation starter. The motion sensors detect finger movements and the touch ring software on your smartphone will process the images. After compensating for background objects (such as textiles) and ambient environmental lighting, the images are analyzed to reconstruct a dynamic 2D representation of what the ring sees. When you are ready to send your message, simply squeeze your ring and the same squeeze (with the same duration and strength) will be transferred to the receiver through their ring. So, the touch will become both a send button and a conversation starter. We have chosen a ring that embodies the design principles because there is probably no other item so common to all ages and cultures to humankind as rings. The heart of the ring is consists of 4 main components: motion sensors, dual Bluetooth panel with the battery, mini led lights panel and mechanics of haptic technology. A skin-like rubber material will cover the ring to enable flexibility and to enable sending and receiving touch through the device.

How it Works?

flow

After defining the device, we have designed the interactions. The main interaction is where you activate the ring with a unique pattern. Two people have to decide on a unique gesture which will be their personal code. this pattern can be a shape, a letter, anything that the users desire. When this pattern is applied on a surface, the ring will activate the writing mode and understand to whom you are sending the message. This unique pattern does not only create a personalized experience for the users but also it will enable users to send messages to different people with one ring. And lastly, the unique pattern is useful in terms of privacy, so that if someone finds your ring they won’t be able to send any message since they won’t know the gesture that activates the writing mode.

To activate the writing mode, draw the unique pattern on any surface. Then start drawing or writing your message on the same surface. When you finish your message simply squeeze the ring to send it. The duration and the strength of the squeeze will be transferred to the receiver through their ring. So, touch will become the conversation starter for the receiver and the send button for the sender.

secondary image

The ring will detect the most used communication platform between the users and will send the message through that platform. It will reconstruct a dynamic 2D representation of finger movements, and to send the receiver via a smartphone. This representation will be sent as a snapshot to the receiver. This means that the receiver will be able to see the whole movements and not just a static image. As seen in the image above, there will be a replay button of the received handwritten messages which will replay the message and the squeeze. This will allow the receiver to give more meaning to the message. There won’t be an additional mobile app but it will be integrated into any other preferred messaging platform. In the image above, an example of how the concept can be integrated into Whatsapp Messenger can be seen. In addition, to enhance the connection for those who experience a physical gap, the location of the message will be shown to both the sender and the receiver. So, when a message is sent via touch ring -unless the option is turned off- it will record the location sent. The location can be a neighborhood, a city or a country. The users will choose between these options.

Design Process

Video Storytelling

“Personal Touch: A Design Concept to Empower Connections” is my final project at the Estonian Academy of Arts(EKA), a result of 5 months journey to become a Master of Interaction Design. See more on IxDA 2020 shortlist or read more on my Medium blog post.

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