2022 • Wearable technology • 2 weeks • ux design sprint
Beyond Skin is a project conducted as part of my MA UX course aimed at deepening our understanding of what possibilities and potentials lie in our skin, and how design can facilitate our connection to ourselves and others.
Skin is a multi-functional organ that plays important biological, social, and cultural roles. It serves not only as a protective barrier against microbes and environmental factors, but also as a medium for emotional connection and communicating aspects of our health and well being.
In the early stages, I was primarily focused on conducting extensive secondary research to gain a deeper understanding of the evolutionary adaptations and functions of skin, as well as using speculative design elements to consider how human skin might need to adapt with current global climate crisis trends. Then, I designed a storyboard and conducted a speed dating activity in order to facilitate the incorporation of ongoing feedback and ensure a clear, impactful design. And finally, I used [my skill set in] material exploration and making expertise to source the materials for the final prototype of the jacket and assist in [the logistical and aesthetic elements of] its build.
The design is an interactive LED jacket that creates new ways to connect with others. The jacket features controllable LED strips placed around the arm and shoulders, displaying a range of colors and pulsations. The jacket was coded with an Arduino board and proximity sensors to allow for personalized control of the LED lights.
We began wanting to contextualize this brief and researched the main functions of skin, its evolution over time and in response to different environmental factors. We looked at animal skins as well when considering how human skin might evolve for future challenges and different forms this interface might take.
Our main source of inspiration was cuttlefish, who have skin that not only functions as a means to camouflage, hypnotize prey, and attract mates. They have developed a language to "wear their thoughts on their skin." Scientists are able to gauge their feelings and experienecs depending on their color patterns, which seems like a really exciting form of non-verbal communication.
What could this look like adapted for human beings? Who might benefit from the availability of a new form of communication?
We completed an AEIOU and explored potential materials and directions for our design. In the process, we considered biomimicry and protective or defensive amour, skin that is able to retain water to adapt to climate emergencies, and virtual reality "skins."
Ultimately, we wanted to focus on human connection. We decided to explore ways to amplify touch and connect in new ways.
Testing + Feedback
We completed an AEIOU and created a storyboard to test which interaction types seemed to be the most impactful.
Based on participant feedback, the change of colors in close proximity had a stronger impact and communicated the intended message in a clearer manner. Some participants expressed confusion about the different colors and their meanings, as well as noting that it seemed to create a binary- so we chose to implement similar color patterns in both prototypes to avoid confusion and allow a more inclusive design.
We utilized coding and fashion skills to bring the jacket design to life. The interactive features were enabled by the Arduino board, LED strips, and proximity sensor. And in order to achieve the glowing effect, we used scrap bubble paper and cloth tape to cover the LED strips that were stitched into the base. The result was a functional and aesthetically pleasing wearable that demonstrated the potential of our concept.
The final outcome of the interactive jacket was a performance that effectively demonstrated the connection that can be achieved through the use of this new form of communication.
The climax of the performance was a synchronized rainbow display at the moment of embrace, which showcased the potential of the jacket to foster and facilitate human connections.
Learnings: Designing for Emotional Well-being and Beyond
This project illuminated the profound impact of prioritizing human emotional well-being and the untapped potential of technology in fostering genuine interpersonal connections. Exploring the intricacies of human connectedness, the exploration of non-verbal communication, and drawing inspiration from the animal kingdom served as captivating reminders to challenge our preconceived limitations.
Future Directions: Expanding Horizons
Envisioned as a beacon of inclusivity, this interface has the power to significantly elevate the quality of life for individuals facing diverse challenges. By redefining communication norms and offering an innovative alternative to conventional modes, such as speech and gestures, this design journey has the potential to unlock a more empathetic and connected world.
Farah Zia Ⓒ 2023