[Dis]embodied Senses: Interaction Beyond the Screen

research shows virtual connections has led to negative impacts on mental and physical well-being

Tristen Click
Graduate student
Vermont College of Fine Arts

Connection—here defined as experience, learning, socializing—is one of the primary drivers of human social behavior; over the past decade, we have experienced a major paradigm shift in how we connect. One main driver behind this change is advancing technology—primarily our reliance on smartphones and the internet. We have replaced physical connection with virtual connection, and while this has provided some societal advances and benefits, research shows this also has led to negative impacts on mental and physical well-being.

Perhaps inevitably technology will continue to advance at a rapid pace. Can we embrace this change while simultaneously being mindful of design methods for reconnecting the physical and the virtual beyond the screen, through the use of the full multisensory experience? Would this enhanced experience improve our sense of connection?

As designers we often limit ourselves to the visual—form, texture, color—but we are surrounded by options for using mixed reality. Alexa, Siri, and other sources of conversational design, as well as advanced haptics (vibrating phones, for example) are cases in point. In a visually overstimulated world what would happen if designers more deeply considered all five senses?

The author’s recent body of work investigates these questions through a variety of methods and tools including Makey Makeys, conductive ink, Play-Doh, scratch-and-sniff wallpaper, and video explorations. Designers communicate and build connection(s) through their work. Immersive experiences can build connections by having no (or low) barriers to entry, creating layers of meaning, and engaging all of the senses. In this presentation, the author will showcase her extensive research and body of work titled “[Dis]embodied Senses” which seeks to address some of these questions. Additionally, she will showcase simple methods and tools that can be used for prototyping sensory experiences both in the classroom and in one’s design practice.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 6.3: Fordham University on May 16, 2020.