Towards an Empowering Tangible Interaction Design for Diversity

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In book: Include Asia 2013 Proceedings. Global Challenges and Local Solutions in Inclusive Design, Conference on Inclusive Design Myerson, Jeremy, Chapter: Towards an Empowering Tangible Interaction Design for Diversity, Publisher: Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, The Royal College of Art, London, Hong Kong Design Centre and the School of Design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Editors: Jeremy Myerson, pp.11
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The seven principles of Universal Design, such as " 4. Perceptible Information " and " 5. Tolerance for errors " , are formulated from the design's or system's perspective. The principles focus on the qualities of the system or design, not on the value of use, the long time experience and use by many different people. Nor do the principles embrace a cultural and social understanding of the value of things, designs and situations. In this paper we argue for the necessity to broaden this narrow system or product design perspective, when designing to empower diverse users. Our field of study is musical and cross-media Tangible Interaction Design, where multimedia computer capabilities are included in everyday objects. Our goal is to motivate social and musical co-creation for families with disabled children to improve their health and quality of life. To extend our design thinking, practice and understanding of a design's value, meaning and empowering potential, we build on a humanistic health approach, resource-oriented thinking, Positive psychology and Empowerment philosophy. In the paper we present and discuss how we design cross-media, interactive, tangible and musical things to motivate and empower a variety of users in our ongoing RHYME project.
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Towards an Empowering Tangible
Interaction Design for Diversity
Birgitta Cappelen,
Anders-Petter Andersson
Institute of Design, The Oslo School of Architecture and Design
The seven principles of Universal Design, such as ”4. Perceptible Information” and ”5.
Tolerance for errors”, are formulated from the design’s or system’s perspective. The
principles focus on the qualities of the system or design, not on the value of use, the
long time experience and use by many different people. Nor do the principles embrace a
cultural and social understanding of the value of things, designs and situations.
In this paper we argue for the necessity to broaden this narrow system or product design
perspective, when designing to empower diverse users. Our field of study is musical and
cross-media Tangible Interaction Design, where multimedia computer capabilities are
included in everyday objects. Our goal is to motivate social and musical co-creation for
families with disabled children to improve their health and quality of life. To extend our
design thinking, practice and understanding of a design’s value, meaning and
empowering potential, we build on a humanistic health approach, resource-oriented
thinking, Positive psychology and Empowerment philosophy. In the paper we present
and discuss how we design cross-media, interactive, tangible and musical things to
motivate and empower a variety of users in our on-going RHYME project.
Universal Design, Tangible Interaction, Musical interaction, Multi-sensory environment,
Empowerment, Resource-Oriented
The seven principles of Universal Design, like ”4. Perceptible Information” and ”5.
Tolerance for errors” is formulated from the design’s or system’s perspective. The
principles focus on the qualities of the system or design, not on the value of use, or the
long time experience and use of many people. In this paper we will argue that this
narrow system or product design perspective overlook important aspects of design like
the diversity of the users and uses, but also of the value and culture of designs and
things. By broadening the perspective and focus on users’ diversity, long time
experience of many users and use, we will argue that it will change our way of
“designing for all”. Things and technology might empower or disempower the user
depending on the designs thoroughness and use in the situation and over time.
Figure 1: Family Musicking in Wave Carpet
Designing empowering things is much more demanding than what “Intuitive Use”,
“Perceptible Information” and “Tolerance for Error” express, because it demands a
deeper understanding of why and how we use and relate to things over time, insight in
the value and culture of designs and things from knowledge fields like sociology, social
anthropology and health related fields.
In this paper we argue based on practical Research by Design cases from our ongoing
research project RHYME [29]. Our project goal is to create tangible interactive
multimedia things that motivate families with disabled children to co-create together. We
build on a humanistic health approach, and use Resource-Oriented thinking, Positive
psychology and empowerment philosophy to expand our design thinking and practice.
Our design field, Tangible Interaction [25], where computer capabilities is included in
everyday objects is a fast developing design discipline and is of great importance for the
Universal Design field [7]. It is closely related to fields like Assistive Technology [7], and
combines both physical aspects, typically designed by industrial designers, with interface
design, typically designed by interaction designers. It is a challenging area for Universal
Design because it can and should not be divided into hardware and software, because it
is the combination and hybridisation that represent unique possibilities for the Universal
Design community. Tangible Interaction Design represents sensorial, narrative and
social possibilities by its hybridisation of hardware such as materials, structures and
sensors and software that can remember, learn and respond intelligently. And that are
networked to other cultures and communities of things and people through the Internet.
These possibilities are easily overlooked if we divide the design challenge into physical
industrial “shell design” and the interface software design, and leave out the service de-
sign dimensions.
Working with physical interactive technology we also build on an actorial understanding
of technology inspired by sociologist Bruno Latour, and his hybrid understanding of the
relation between people and technology [16]. Latour points out that things and tech-
nology are not only tools with functions for specific predefined tasks as Heidegger and
his followers focus on [15], but rather complex mediators of power and meaning [16].
Empowerment philosophy developed on the same ground as Universal Design, the
human rights movement, where participation and equality is common ground [20].
Resource-oriented thinking has learned us to focuses on people’s abilities not on their
diagnosis, weaknesses and special needs [2, 22]. Things that have the goal to empower
should not only “tolerate errors” as the 5th UD Principle demands, but provide the users
with positive challenging experiences. Further it should make the user able to develop
his knowledge and capabilities to act and master over time. Empowerment thinking also
emphasises the right to participate and build equal social relations over time. So
empowering things should offer the users the ability to create, collaborate and
strengthen relationships. Here the hybrid thing, the Tangible Interaction Designs, that
combines cultural things with network and computer capabilities (also called Internet of
Things), offers new and exciting possibilities for empowerment in the Universal Design
community as we have discussed in earlier papers [4, 7].
The paper is structured in the following way: First we present the approaches we
consider relevant in order to expand the design perspective. Secondly we present the
RHYME project, its goals and methods. We present 3 cases and generations of designs
in our project, and because of the limited space here, some examples of how we reason
and design to make them empowering for diverse users. Lastly we summarise the
current stage of the project and our design suggestions pointing towards an Empowering
Tangible Interaction Design for Diversity.
Extending the Perspective
What is a Designed Interactive Thing?
Things are not only physical objects with shape that offers and affords functionality or
beauty. Things also structure actions, relations and are defined by and define the user
mutually by the cultural and genre competence the user possesses, like social
anthropologist Appadurai points out in his book “The social life of things” [1]. Things are
also complex mediators of meaning, relations, actions and power that sociologist Bruno
Latour has shown in his work within sociology and technology [16]. His work has been of
great importance for the HCI and Interaction Design fields, in particular his Actor
Network Theory and theory of mediation [16]. Latour shows how things can act, not only
as neutral objects or tools, but as active actors, or actants, as he calls them, with abilities
to influence scientific results and everyday life. So based on this insight we should take
all these perspectives into consideration when designing, not only focus on shape and
use of a single isolated thing, like industrial designers often do. Service Design usually
takes into account experiences that develop over time, but seldom the cultural
perspective and consequence of their design. Their business oriented background and
goal, seldom focus on the consequences on ethical value, meaning and power
structures the design creates and maintain, but rather on the market potential and return
on investment. But like Latour points out we negotiate meaning and relation through use
of things [16]. Again, things are not only efficient and functional tools like Heidegger and
his followers focus on [15].
Expanding the Role of the Thing
In an earlier paper we have discussed how tangible interactive things containing both
materials such as textile, computer components like sensors and speakers controlled by
“intelligent” software, have many more layers of possibilities than physical things and
computers isolated [4]. They can be programmed to react immediately and strongly on a
weak action, like an electronic instrument, and just therefore offers great possibilities for
the Universal Design community [7, 18, 19]. But the interactive things can also be
programmed to answer intelligently and delayed like a human being in a communication
situation, in a close by or in another room, just to give an example. Computers can be
programmed to listen, learn and remember, and here lies great empowering possibilities
for the Universal Design community and Assistive Technology [7]. Interactive things can
be programmed for instance to motivate interaction, stimulate initiative, development of
mastery and social interaction [4].
Empowerment thinking, Positive psychology and Resource-Orientation
The Empowerment concept and thinking grew out of the civil rights movement in the
1960s-1970s, and is connected to political, democratic and humanistic values [20], the
same ground that the field of Universal Design is grounded on. In psychology, empower-
ment is related to preventive thinking, which is anti-medical and anti-psychiatric [7]. The
focus is on self-actualisation, concentrating on the abilities and strengths of the person,
not on their diagnosis or weaknesses. The goal is to improve vitality, self-esteem, social
relationships and participation, through mutual and equal, positive relation building
experiences [7, 18, 19]. Empowerment is always situated in a context, and is happening
and unfolding in culture, where every situation is different.
From resource-oriented thinking we have learned to focus on peoples abilities, not on
their diseases, weaknesses or special needs [2, 22]. From Positive psychology we know
that stimulation of positive experiences motivate interaction [24], while failing ends up
with demotivation and fatigue [19].
The relational concept of Musicking
Within music the famous musicologist and composer Christopher Small has developed
the concept of “musicking ”, which is a very interesting concept for design. With the word
“musicking” Small moves music from being an Art Work to an equal meaning making
and relation building activity. Play, listen, sing, dance, clap and shake are for Small
equal meaning making and relation building activities, where one expresses one’s
identity in and with music and music related activities in everyday situation. This concept
has been used by health related fields like Music Therapy. Interesting from a design
point of view is that Small incorporates both the power structures of the architecture of
the concert hall, but also the whole service journey as part of the musical meaning
making activity, and how physical and virtual “touch points” maintain and produce
meaning and culture.
Designing for Musicking
In the humanist health approach we build on health as an experience of wellbeing rather
than cure from illness [2]. Music in an empowering health context, then becomes a
resource for health promotion. The music therapist and researcher Randi Rolvsjord has
thoroughly presented and argued for a resource and empowerment oriented perspective
in Music Therapy [21, 22]. The focus is on the abilities and strengths of the person, not
on their diagnosis or weaknesses. The goal is to improve vitality, self-esteem, social
relationships and participation through mutual and equal, positive relation building
musical experiences [23]. To design empowering tangible interaction designs with such
goals, the challenges shift from the interface design and Universal Design principles’
perspective, to the relation building potentialities of the interactive things. The focus
shifts from controlling the interface to motivate social interaction, co-creation and
“musicking” [26]. Tangible interaction designs that motivate “Musicking” between people
with different competencies, abilities and motivations to interact and communicate
together on equal terms. To achieve our health goals the interactive things must evoke
positive feelings, be able to master and be challenging over time, create and strengthen
social relations and offer a shared experience of meaning.
The extended Design Challenge
When designing, and specially when designing for people with special needs, we have
to take all this knowledge and these perspectives into consideration when designing:
How does the thing we design mediate the negotiation of meaning, actions and
relations? Does the designed thing open up for negotiation, or does it give one user the
right to define what it is or how it should be used? Does it invite to many ways to use it
and relate to it? Or does it encourage a “right” way to use it, for instance described in the
user handbook, the way the designer has decided to use it right. By describing a way to
use it in a user hand book the designer takes the role to define the right way to use it,
and thereby other uses to be secondary or wrong. The designer thereby sets herself in
the position to define what is right. This definition power as we have learned from Michel
Foucault [13] is an important power position we have to understand the consequence of.
Do we want to promote this power position and is it in line with empowerment and
resource-oriented thinking? We will argue that the answer is no. How the designed thing
structures actions, choices, relations and power in a Foucauldian sense, is something
we as designers have to take deeply into consideration when designing and
acknowledging diversity. Consciously rejecting words like Universal and Inclusive,
because of the insight in the definition of power. Focus on the persons strengths and
abilities, not their special needs, weaknesses and diagnosis the designed thing has to
offer: many positive experiences, no wrongs or failing, many ways to vitality and self-
expression, the ability to act and build competence (mastering), many ways to
strengthen mutual social relations, diverse ways to share and participate and create
meaning to be empowering. In the following we will present some practical examples of
how we try to answer this design challenge.
The RHYME project
Background and Goal
The framework and basis for this paper is our ongoing RHYME project, financed by The
Research Council of Norway through the VERDIKT programme [29]. The project is a
multidisciplinary project between the Centre for Music and Health at the Norwegian
Academy of Music, the Institute of Design at Oslo School of Architecture and Design
(AHO) and the Institute of Informatics at the University of Oslo. The goal of the RHYME
project is to improve health and life quality for persons with severe disabilities, with the
use of tangible and musical interactive things: These interactive things are computer
based, networked and multimodal things, which communicate following musical,
narrative and communicative principles. They are interactive, social, intelligent things
that motivate people to play, communicate and co-create, and thereby hopefully reduce
passivity and isolation, and strengthen health and well-being.
Through the five years (2010-2015) the project will last we will develop new generations
of tangible interactive things every year focusing on different user situations. The first
year we started testing an older installation [28] to create a common ground in the
project. The second year and generation we worked with all thinkable multimedia
possibilities and wired solutions. The third year and generation we focused on mobile
technology with the limitation wireless and current battery possibilities offered. The last
year we will build social media solutions and distributed solutions connecting interaction
between different places such as at home and on the street, or between homes. [29]
Method – Multidisciplinary, Research-by-Design and Action oriented
The RHYME project is multidisciplinary, joining competences from Music Therapy, Music
and Health, Psychology, Industrial Design, Interaction Design, Musicology, Music
Composition, Computer Science and Universal Design.
Our design research methodology is user-centered and practice based, where we
develop knowledge through design of new generations of interactive things discussed in
earlier papers [3, 27]. Our user studies are action oriented and multidisciplinary. We
work together with 5 families that test, discuss and suggest solutions and changes.
During the test period we make changes based on our observations and discussions in
the project and with focus group members. During 2nd Generation we observed 5
children interacting together with their care persons. We made 4 different actions over a
period of 1 month at a school for children with special needs. From one action to the
other, we made changes based on the previous action, weekly user surveys,
observations and multidisciplinary discussions. All sessions were video recorded from
three angles to get as rich material and understanding as possible. From the last mobile
3rd Generation of interactive things was tested by the five children’s families, including
grand parents and siblings.
1st Generation – ORFI
The first empirical study in the RHYME project was of the ORFI installation (Fig. 2),
created earlier by three project members [28]. ORFI consists of 20 pyramid shaped soft
modules and a dynamic video wall. The modules are made in black textile and come in
three different sizes from 30 to 90 centimetres. Most of the soft black pyramids, the
ORFI modules, have orange origami shaped “wings” mounted with an orange
transparent light stick along one side. The “wings” contain bendable sensors. By
interacting with the wings the user creates changes in light, video and music. Two
orange modules contain microphones. The black wing-less modules contain speakers.
ORFI – Empowering Design Choices
ORFI is shaped as a hybrid, a hybrid between furniture, an instrument and a toy, in order
to motivate different interpretations, interaction forms, activity levels and relations [4].
One can sit down in it as in a chair or play on it as on an instrument, with immediate
response to interaction. Or one can talk, sing and play with it, as with a friend and a co-
musician in a communicative way, where ORFI answers vary musically after some time,
what we call shifted response [5]. Every module contains a micro computer and a radio
device, so they can communicate wirelessly with each other. The modules can be
connected together in a Lego-like manner into large interactive landscapes, both as a
possibility for self expression and to mediate different interaction forms (interior design,
sleeping to sound). Or, the modules can be spread out in a radius of 100 meters. So one
can interact with each other sitting close or far away from each other. There is no central
point in the installation, instead it is like a field [8] of many potentialities. The users can
look at each other or at the dynamic video they create together. Or one can just chill out
and feel the vibrations from the music sitting in the largest modules as an immersive,
ambient, experience. There are many ways to interact, focus and gain sensorial
stimulating positive experiences. The ORFI installation contains 8 different genres of
music and related dynamic video tapestry to choose between from more traditional Jazz,
Funk, Noise to Disco, Classic music, Film sounds and possibility to create your own
music with your voice and change and play with it in the ORFI landscape. So there are
many ways to express one self and develop social relations in ORFI. But also develop
relations to ORFI itself: competence in playing a genre, different ways to create the
physical landscape or tag the modules physically in order to personalise ORFI. Just to
mention three examples. Shape-vice ORFI’s pyramid shape is open to many
interpretations, from being a traditional pillow, a birdlike toy, a boat with sails, to an
instrument to control with high precision, or just a modular soft landscape to rest on and
with. Every corner of the pyramid has a rubber hook to be buildable as building blocks.
Observations, Findings and New Challenges for Generation 2
In our many observations of ORFI we have seen very many ways to interact with and in
ORFI described in earlier papers [4, 6, 7]. Some treat ORFI like an electronic instrument
to perform advanced sound synthesis, some use it for pillow war and treat and talk about
it as a toy. The many music genres to choose between becomes an important source to
chose, decide and perform power and self regulation [23]. We observe over and over
again how softer music is chosen after some time with louder and faster music types.
From our action oriented, multidisciplinary user study we found several weaknesses with
ORFI, and many desired qualities, that we wanted for a new generation of interactive
things; In particular the music therapists and music and health professionals wanted the
sound source to be close to the interaction place, similar to how acoustic instruments
work. Equally, we wanted a closer relation between the interaction place (sensor) and
the light output. For interactive objects, it means to place the input sensor close to the
speaker. This is a complex design challenge regarding wireless objects, object size and
weight, sensor qualities, sound quality and wireless sound transmission. We also wanted
to explore more sensory stimulation like vibrators and stronger speakers, and create
more easily enabled input sensors. Finally we wanted to be able to integrate
microphone, speakers and camera for new cross-media interaction possibilities.
2rd Generation – Wave
As an answer to the described challenges we created the Wave Carpet (see Fig 1). It is
a seven-branched carpet of the size 3.5 x 3.8 meters. Two branches or “arms” contain
digital bend sensors. Two “arms” contain accelerometers, which register movement in
three directions. One “arm”, in the middle, contains a microphone, and the last two
contain projector and web camera. All arms have orange velvet tops that light up during
interaction. To activate the camera and projector, the user holds on the orange, soft,
velvet touch sensors, and the light on the microphone lights up, reacting to the sound
level, and records when activated by relatively higher sounds. The carpet is filled with
different kinds of fill that gives it a “landscape” structure. The carpet “body” contains
speakers, vibrator, camera, pico projector and computer. It doesn’t run on battery power
since it is connected to a wall socket [29].
Wave – Empowering Design Choices
To offer empowering qualities in Wave we made a lot of design choices that in several
ways differ from traditional functionalistic and “less is more” design ideals. We wanted to
offer many different ways to interact and get positive experiences for diverse users; One
can sit or lie on it and just experience the musical vibration of the speakers and strong
vibrator. One can sit opposite each other and operate it like a game control device. Or
just concentrate on one arm and develop competence. For instance, just move the
accelerator arm in any way, play on the two synthetic voices with the arms containing
bend sensors, or use the microphone and play back the recorded input dynamically with
the accelerometers. Or one can use the camera to capture the players, use the camera
and microphone, interact socially with two microphones and projecting what the camera
records, just to explain some possibilities to play alone, develop competence to play with
mastery and co-create with others [29].
Observations, Findings and New Challenges for Generation 3
During the test period we observed that users interpreted and explored the carpet in very
different ways. We have earlier presented these in more detail [3]. Here we will only
summarise some of our findings. The most important was that we observed very diverse
use of the Wave carpet. Some sat on it gently and treated it like a creature and often
talked about it as an octopus. Others jumped around on it and treated it as a trampoline.
Some were inspired by interaction with the camera in one arm, and projected on the wall
by holding the other arm containing the pico projector. Many were occupied by talking to
the microphone and letting the carpet answer in a turn-taking manner. And others just
relaxed and felt the vibration onto the body.
3rd Generation – Reflect
Reflect is the name of the 3rd Generation of interactive things. The current version
consists of two mobile interactive things containing a computer (iPod Touch), sensors
(bend and touch), speakers, LEDs and a RFID reader. One thing is shaped as an
abstract creature with a “head” and “trunk” or like a soft banjo with body and a long neck
(see Fig 3). The “trunk” or “neck” contains the RFID reader and a bend sensor, while the
head or body contains most of the lights and sensors. Further, Reflect includes a system
of RFID-tags that is connected to different common and more abstract things, like
slippers to wear, kitchen pots, tools and music instruments to use or play on and toys to
play with. Further there are more abstract objects like fury balls to cuddle and smell to
evoke arousal and expand the sensorial experience. Currently we have around 100
different things with RFID tags to play on and with by using one of the Reflect tangibles.
They all play differently relating to what Scene the user has chosen with the RFID
reader. We currently have 8 different Scenes such as ABBA’s Mamma Mia, and we
continuously create new ones [29].
Reflect – Empowering Design Choices
The Shape and physical design of Reflect designed to be as ambiguous as possible to
open up for many interpretations, interaction forms and ways to relate. To offer the user
many positive experiences we use several media (light, sound, tactility), structures
(round soft head sized and grip sized long bouncing “trunk”), materials (contrasting
textile such as white silk, yellow velvet and black wool) and responses, both direct and
shifted [5]. To offer many ways for self-expression we use several media, many ways to
relate (e.g. playing on and sleeping with), many tagged objects to choose and Scenes to
express and self-regulate emotions with, and narrative music paths to follow, just to give
some examples of how we designed Reflect to motivate co-creation and to empower.
Observations, Findings and New Challenges for Generation 4
During the test period of Reflect there were many family constellations that joined the
test. Some for example came with the father and grandmother on one occasion, and
father and siblings on another. We observed many interaction forms, intensity levels and
use sequences that varied over the hour they played with Reflect every time. One girl
used the Reflect creature both like a tool to activate the RFID tags connected to all the
objects, just to see what and how they sang. Later during the test she used Reflect as a
sleeping and glowing companion, as a guitar to hang over her head and play on, as a
stretching fitness machine and as a co-musician. Many of the children talked into
Reflects trunck, expecting it to be a microphone there, since both Wave and ORFI had
microphones (the reason for not including a microphone this time was technical only).
The many RFID tagged objects made the children explore in many ways both musically
by developing a complex musical choir, physically by the differences in shape, material
and ways to interact with them in diverse ways and socially by engaging the whole family
in various ways. The earlier mentioned girl showed her grandmother how to interact with
the trunk to make the different things sing together, while the father played on the
maracas drum activating the RFID tag to add an electronic maracas sound to his own
drumming. The tagged things were used for wondering about what it had to say or sing,
but also in a traditional manner as mentioned with the drum. But they were also used to
develop mastery in pace by speedy activation of the tags to develop the music faster
and thereby develop musical competence. The children very fast became surprisingly
competent to handle the most of the basic possibilities and very fast took on the role of
teaching the rest of their family, a role they didn’t get to have very often.
Figure 2: Father and Girl in ORFI Figure 3: Man interacting with Reflect
Conclusion – Empowering Qualities and Design for Diversity
Our goal with this paper is to contribute to the field of Tangible Interaction Design related
to Universal Design and Inclusive Design challenges with our perspectives and practical
experience from the field. By focusing on the empowering potential of interactive things
when designing, we have argued for a need to broaden our focus compared to the
narrow product design perspective the Universal Design principles represent. As we
have a goal to empower our users we have to incorporate a deeper understanding of
how things mediate social and cultural meanings, actions, our narratives and relations
for diverse users over time. Based on this goal we have presented and argued with
practical design examples from an on-going research project for design qualities
interactive things should have to be empowering. We have presented several examples
of such design qualities to argue for our view. We have suggested that tangible
interaction design should have the following qualities to be empowering. The tangible
Interaction Design should offer the users:
Many roles to take, interpretations to make of the design, and the design must
be consistent with its character to create adequate expectations.
Many positive experiences to make in every situation, where there are no
wrong actions or failing possibilities, where there are few dependencies and no
closed paths and there are many ways to experience vitality and self-expression.
Many ways to act and build competence and mastering in every situation
based on the role and the interpretation the user take and make. So there have
to be many paths to take, many sequences to perform and many narratives to
build, therefore it should have few dependencies in sequences.
Many ways to develop and build relations to things, people, actions (e.g.
mastering) and experiences (expectation based on narrative structures and
competence). In other words many ways to share, relate, participate and create
meaning over time.
These design qualities’ ideals point towards an ambiguous, open and relation oriented
design, where there are multiple possible relations to physical, visual, spatial, temporal
and role based relations the user can choose and realise through use (improvisation) in
every situation. In our opinion these design demands expand the perspective of the
Universal Design principles with a more complex understanding of the relation between
people and design.
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