Use haptics for better experience

July 15, 2014 Manas Karambelkar
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As interaction designers, though we primarily work on digital interactions, we are not just influenced by digital product design. The physical interactions that we experience around us greatly inform the digital design. We, as humans, have lot of evolutionary learning over millennia, and when things conform to these learnings, the interaction feels intuitive. Lets look back and understand how physical interactions guide digital interactions, and how it can help to physically act out interactions to generate concepts.

Wikipedia describes haptics as “Haptic technology”. Haptics, is a tactile feedback technology that takes advantage of the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user. This mechanical stimulation can be used to assist in the creation of virtual objects in a computer simulation, to control such virtual objects, and to enhance the remote control of machines and devices (telerobotics). It has been described as “doing for the sense of touch what computer graphics does for vision”. Haptic devices may incorporate tactile sensors that measure forces exerted by the user on the interface.

Why is it important?
The body part that we use the most to interact with objects is our hands. And our hands are capable of doing and sensing much more than tapping, swiping and pinching. It is sensitive to texture, temperature, weight, and could be used as an input device for the person to provide feedback, along with an output device, for doing actions. This brief rant on the future of interaction design by Bret Victor explains this very well.

Exploratory Procedures used in haptic perception of physical properties of objects by Read more There are many digital products today that use haptic feedback- many gaming consoles use vibration in the controller, and mobile phones use vibrations to provide feedback. How does this translate to digital interactions and experiences?

To extend this thought further,here are some ideas that come to my mind:

  • Why don’t we see mice that provide haptic feedback while browsing on the web? It might be useful while designing for accessibility for blind people, for which only auditory feedback is given.
  • Can we give a physical texture to a website or a terrain with mountains and valleys and plateaus that could only be explored using the mouse?
  • What if our phones became heavier as the number of notifications increase?
  • What if the phone became thicker when reading an eBook of 1000 pages?

An example of exploration on similar lines that I came across few years back is shown below. The shape-shifting future of the mobile phone. These ideas may not be directly applicable/practical, but good to start some exploration in the direction.

As aptly put by Fabian at the end of a talk “Humans should not get technical in the future rather than that the technology should get a bit more human” (Paraphrasing), and that is the intention of this topic – to think about how we can humanize the technology to make it intuitive by taking full advantage of human capabilities.

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Manas Karambelkar

Making human interactions accessible, meaningful and delightful is what drives Manas. He believes design and technology are the tools to do so. When not working he geeks out on film making and scene breakdowns. Thoughts of super-intelligent AI and Fermi paradox keeps him awake at night!

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