Designing Digital Touch

Digitally mediated touch is an emerging and significant area for technology and therefore for design and design education. The Design process as it relates to digital touch is a challenge, however, compounded by low awareness and understanding of the sociality of touch and the complexity of communicating felt sensations. This two-year collaborative case-study between social science and design researchers was undertaken in two phases. Phase 1 involved research on novice (student) designers’ engagement with the design of digital touch, culminating in the development of a prototype toolkit for the design of digital touch. Phase 2 centred on the iterative development of a Digital version of the Designing Digital Touch Toolkit. These are outlined (in reverse order) below.

Phase 2: A Digital Design Toolkit for Touch

A digital version of the Designing Digital Touch toolkit will be available here shortly.

The toolkit aims to provoke and support designers to put touch at the centre of their design research, thinking and prototyping.  It is for any designer or developer who wants to explore and experiment with the design possibilities of touch and its digital mediation. It can be used by individuals or in a design-team/studio to inform the design process. The toolkit can also be used with clients (individual or groups) to build a collaborative design narrative or scenario or as part of a design interview.

What is the toolkit?

The Designing Digital Touch toolkit is a flexible design resource that you can use to inspire, provoke, interrogate, and reflect on touch and digital touch as part of your design process. 

The toolkit supports your engagement with the social and sensory aspects and complexities of touch throughout all stages of the Design Thinking process. It is structured through the five design stages of the Double Diamond Design framework (REF): Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver, with an additional Pre-Discover stage to help you engage with touch awareness and sensitisation. Importantly, you do not need to follow this design framework to use the toolkit cards!  

The toolkit provides three card types across these stages:

FILTERS are questions to help you reflect on your own and others’ experiences.

WILD CARDS are deliberately abstract prompts for thought or action.

ACTIVITIES are more structured exercises and may require more time.

Colours and symbols on each card indicate the design stage and type.

Background

The Toolkit was developed through research on the process of designing digitally mediated touch, with attention to the social and sensory aspects of design. It is the result of a collaboration between InTouch and design educators at Loughborough Design School. The prototype card-based toolkit was iteratively reviewed and edited in response to detailed analysis of its testing with design students (see Phase 1), in discussion with our design collaborators, and validated against and informed through InTouch research case studies.

Phase 1: Researching Novice designers’ digital touch

The toolkit is a research based tool that developed from IN-TOUCH’s interest in how design students think about and through touch, and what happens when digital touch communication moves to the centre of the design process. We worked with design educators at Loughborough Design School to co-develop a student design brief for their module on User Experience Design.

The brief and the module more generally, encouraged students to move beyond touch screens and mobile apps and to incorporate other forms of tangible interaction. The research process involved following the students’ work across the module through a series of design workshops: observing design research and prototyping, collecting associated coursework and video prototyping, and liaising with our collaborators, Val Mitchell and Garrath Wilson.

We analysed the students’ work, reflecting on the kinds of design concepts that emerged and how the digital-touch-centred brief shaped the design process. From a social perspective, we tapped into the students’ design imaginations, to explore what narratives underlied their user scenarios, and what problems were solved and provoked through digital touch. Our analysis highlighted the areas of design challenge that the students faced which formed the starting point for the development of the toolkit as a resource to help them move beyond technology-driven solutions by putting more emphasis on the sensory and communicative properties of touch.

The toolkit prototype (pictured below) was developed through an iterative collaborative design process over 12 months, which centred on interdisciplinary dialogue and reflection, including a series of design workshops with the social science researchers and design lecturers. The toolkit was piloted and evaluated in two workshops with UX design students. The toolkit worked well to:

  • Facilitate students to externalize and communicate about touch in their design process
  • Provide them with pertinent information and help to generate touch vocabulary, typologies and continuums that scaffolded their discussion
  • Prompted critical questioning of touch, and fostered reflection and engagement with the sensory and the social aspects of touch
  • Facilitate imaginative speculation to add to creative thinking

Analysis of the pilot and evaluation data informed the iterative development of the Toolkit.

 

Collaborators:

Dr Val Mitchell, Senior Lecture in User Experience Design, Loughborough Design School, Loughborough University

Dr Garrath Wilson, Lecturer in Industrial/Product Design, Loughborough Design School, Loughborough University