The adventure leading to this book started with a simple assertion regarding my ability or inability to design for different modalities: why could I comfortably design in the visual universe after just a few years of training, but could not in the haptic realm? Was it me, my tools, my education, or something about the design tradition that made me seemingly inept at designing haptics? Why did I not have a design base for leveraging our touch sense and its rich capabilities? My formal training in Industrial Design and Interaction Design provided me with a variety of skills and tools to develop user-centered, functional, usable, and aesthetically pleasing products or systems. But once confronted with the touch modality during a particular project, my design knowledge and tools became very deficient, or simply inadequate.

The project in question, called Puce and realized in 2004, consisted of a wireless vibrating device for less intrusive notifications in personal communication systems. It was very difficult to argue for—or against—the use of haptics in the first place, but also for the design of the different haptic patterns (sequences of buzzing). It seemed that, at that time, the only reference available to ground my design decisions on were my own common sense, intuition, and crude user testing. It was shocking not being able, as a future designer, to develop haptics more intelligently than ‘good/no good’.

The guiding motif throughout the development of this thesis has been (and still is) a desire to design for and with the human haptic sense. It is a quest centered on the advent and the development of a field now labeled haptic interaction design. This nascent field lives at the confluence of the haptics and interaction design domains, and encompasses a plethora of new considerations, notions, possibilities, and promises for the ways we design for human use.

Viewed retrospectively, the journey consisted in demystifying, surveying, and discovering that new haptic interaction design field. The work builds on a considerable research through design account, as well as on the experience and feedback from others through a series of workshops, to investigate the characteristics, qualities and dimensions that make up that new field. This thesis not only lays bare this new haptic interaction design field, it actually proposes a method, or a program, to ease its discovery for designers: simple haptics. The simple haptics scheme is proposed as a fitting approach for designers to successfully venture into haptics and ultimately come to evolve a design repertoire for designing haptic interfaces and haptic experiences. We will return to the simple haptics scheme, but for now let us first explore how it came about.

The First Move

While this proposition emerged from a personal course of action at the confluence of the haptics and design domains, it obviously draws from already existing knowledge from both fields. Consequently, this thesis starts with an exploration of its foundations in the domains in question.

After exposing the background, context and motivation underlying this thesis, the document states the basis of my research, points to relevant and influential works, and positions my work in the grander haptics and design research domains. Overall, this part of the work divulges my role as an explorer or cartographer for venturing in the new haptic interaction design expanse that lies straight ahead.

First, it offers a highly condensed introduction to haptics research. It revisits the origins of the discipline, and looks at how its historical development can be divided into two major tracks: a body-centric approach and a techno-centric one. Those two tracks illustrate fairly adequately how haptics has been researched and developed up to this day. Despite these diverging directions, it is crucial to also investigate and take into account what exactly makes haptics: the details of the human skin, its receptors, the neural mechanisms, and the basic technical considerations underlying the realization of haptic interfaces. Far from constituting a thorough review of the domain of haptics, this succinct presentation serves me well for explicating and contextualizing my proposition.

Second, the same foundational examination is realized for design, and more precisely for design expertise in the field of interaction design: how design representations and activities of prototyping and sketching support design knowledge development. The terms prototypes, models, sketches, prototypes and mock-ups were revisited and discussed, as various communities of practice make different use of the terms. Following a deeper examination of prototyping versus sketching, we denote a preference for the term sketching haptics as the most evocative description of the work put forward in this thesis.

The Second Move

Having stated that, the core elements of my proposition emerge and draw from a number of practical design activities. It is for this reason that these activities have been presented and detailed at length in the second part of this book. As a matter of fact, my proposition draws largely from my own activities and ultimately aims at the multiplication and proliferation of this kind of activity more than anything else. This part of the book adopts a first-person perspective to directly expose my concrete, real, and practical experiences of designing haptic interactions. The work is presented and discussed ‘as it happened’ throughout my doctoral journey. It shows the challenges, mishaps, and successes encountered along the way of designing haptics.

The first activity reported involves the realization of a multimodal usability study. It exposes the details of the experiment and how a non-visual audio-haptic interface was developed and tested. The content of this chapter avoids the exact details of the usability study, but focuses instead of the experience of designing haptics in the context of a scientific study. The realization of this prototyped multimodal study revealed that there was very little design consideration in the traditional lineage of haptic research. Consequently, this deficiency led me to present my wish to design haptics differently.

The second activity is a tentative endeavor to tackle haptics from a full designerly perspective. This chapter reports on my sketching in hardware activities with haptics, realized at Microsoft Research in Cambridge during the spring of 2010. It displays my program of looking at how making and sketching in hardware could lead to haptic knowledge creation. It showcases and discusses multiple haptic sketches, from inception to realization, with the goal of exposing the richness of knowledge gained from the direct design engagement with haptics. This work developed the argument that semi-abstract design tools were particularly fitting and relevant for supporting designers familiarizing and embracing the haptic interactions.

The third activity went on with similar self-initiated practical inquiries, but this time based on activities of designing haptic feedback for Kinect, Microsoft’s then just-released gestural controller. The work consisted of a series of design explorations using two different form factors: hand-held devices and wearables. This work came out of a second internship with Microsoft Research, and depicted another real and pragmatic instance of tackling haptics from a design perspective. It introduced a particular z-depth haptic notches concept that came as particularly striking, pleasant and interesting among all of the other haptic explorations.

The fourth activity included empirical work of a different kind. This chapter retells the educational activities from a series of Sketching Haptics workshops realized with various students and designers over the last two years. This activity complemented my personal experiences reported in chapter 2.1 through 2.3 with external perspectives—of others—about haptic interaction design. These additional observations and insights allowed for a less-biased perspective about my research, by framing it within a larger audience of interaction designers.

The Third Move

The last part of this book, A Way Forward, is about delivering a thorough reflection and analysis of the nascent design space of haptic interaction design: what it is, why it is relevant and opportune for today’s interaction design discipline, and how to best venture into that new field. It serves as the forum to discuss, relate and distil crucial aspects of my work, advance my proposition of Simple Haptics, and ultimately examine the ensuing research contributions. After presenting my activities ‘as they happened’, my work is now examined retrospectively and from a meta-perspective.

Firstly, this section reviews and examines the current state of affairs of haptic interaction design using four assessment points: interest and motivation towards this new field; the availability of materials; the availability of tools; and finally, skills and knowledge to support haptic interaction. It identifies a genuine and growing interest towards haptics and design. This examination also recognizes converging forces feeding the development of haptic interaction design. It shows that new tools and materials are slowly emerging, and expanding what is possible and conceivable for the design of haptic interactions. At the same time, the examination highlights a particular shortage or lack of knowledge and skills for the design of haptic interactions. In summary, it establishes that working, manipulating, adequately designing haptics remains quite an undertaking today.

Building from this state of affairs, this thesis advances a particular proposition to nurture the haptic interaction design field. The proposition is labeled Simple Haptics and consists of a simplistic, unsophisticated and almost naïve approach to the design of haptic interactions. Simple haptics is a program and a strategy to realize and advance haptic interaction design. It advocates an effervescence of direct perceptual experiences in lieu of technical reverence. It recommends a familiarization of haptics through simpler but direct haptic experiences. This approach involves playing, testing, changing, and exploring with haptics to develop a fuller comprehension and design appropriation of this modality.

Secondly, this document addresses the contributions my work has had, or is expected to have, on research and practice. The contributions are elaborated under four specific categories: knowledge contributions, methodological contributions, impact contributions, and design contributions. Taken as a whole, the contributions shape more precisely what the simple haptics proposition entails.

The main knowledge contribution has been aptly labeled the massification of haptics and denotes the intentional realization and appropriation of haptics as a non-visual interaction design material. It advances various ways to make haptics concrete, graspable, sensible and approachable for designers, by seeing through the ‘obviousness’ of everyday haptic interactions, and posits that haptic interactions can be intentionally and knowingly designed. The massification of haptics hints also at a few dimensions and qualities of haptic interactions that have become available, perceivable, and designable.

The central methodological contribution of this work comes as a mixed longitudinal approach, a persistent oscillation and interplay between self-initiated individual design activities and empirical-style group activities with others. This particular strategy has provided very real, direct and concrete experiences of designing for the unfamiliar modality of touch, but also gave enough detached and external perspective to allow critical inquiries to take place.

As for the impact contributions, the work has showed direct influence on industry via continued collaborations with Microsoft Research and numerous other organizations. This work has also had substantial impact on education, by elaborating new course curriculum at universities in Sweden and Canada. The sketching approach to the design of haptic interactions has been praised in the haptics education circles.

Additionally, this work offers a selection of design contributions, as ways and means to tackle the design of haptic interactions for designers. The design contributions are practical advices, tips and guidelines to facilitate the discovery of this new design space. These design contributions also highlight challenges and difficulties that have been shown to require particular attention and scrutiny when embarking on a design journey with haptics.

Finally, the thesis ends by putting this work in different perspectives, both current and future. It specifically discusses what makes haptic interaction design different than haptic research: the former being centered on design action, the latter pertaining to scientific inquiries. It also addresses how haptic interaction design relates to the contemporary design research agenda, seeing that the new field tackles crucial design issues, as the physical bridges the digital world, and vice versa. And lastly, the discussion hints at future directions regarding Simple Haptics and the larger haptic interaction design field.

The Final Move

This book has presented my journey into the design of haptic interactions, an adventure that lasted more than five years. Five years of probing, reading, asking questions, attending conferences and seminars, talking to experts, with one principal objective: designing haptic interactions. Even after five full years of investigation, I feel that I only scratched the surface of what the field of haptic interaction has to offer. My realizations and contributions are only the initial seeds to what I now see possible to achieve and develop in this new design space. The potential for designing new haptic interactions is so vast and wide, at so many different levels. I can only hope that others—design students, practitioners and researchers— will be inspired by this work, and in turn decide to venture into haptics. For those taking on such challenge, I believe that my proposition of Simple Haptics can help make this discovery as pleasant, joyful and rewarding as possible.