Updated: May 11
The purpose of this project is to explore the possibility of using analog object motion to convey system status or data. Enhancing the user interaction experience with more intuitive feedback.
I'm studying product design at Weißensee Academy of Art Berlin. This project is my MA Thesis.
Inspiration and Theory
We're currently living in an age of information overload, and have you ever stopped to think about how we actually get our information in our daily lives?
Most of the time, we get our information from electronic devices around us or screens, and we stare at our phones for at least a few hours every day. These devices and the information they provide constantly grab our attention and occupy our lives. So besides this method, is there any other way for us to acquire information ?
When we take a walk in the afternoon, we feel the warmth of the sun shining on us. We sense the speed of the wind as dandelion seeds float upwards. When we step on moss, we obtain information about the humidity in the air.
Although this information is basic, we sense it from nature. We are surprised at how quickly our bodies adapt to this way of sensing information. It is so familiar and comforting.
So, In today's world of electronic device overload, is it possible for us to combine two methods together? What insights can we get for designing interfaces from nature?
There is an interesting example in plants where when we touch mimosa leaves, it will suddenly close , and we interpret this behavior as the emotion of shyness. This example fullfill several necessary elements of interaction design. Touch is input, the motion can be seen as feedback, and our perception of this feedback comes from an emotional level of information, shyness.
These seemingly insignificant little plants can actually evoke emotional projections from us. Why is it that a simple action can immediately generate such rich perception in us?
This situation is actually based on a theory called kinesthetic empathy, which refers to our ability to experience empathy by observing the movements of other humans. For example, when we watch a ballet dancer leap, even if we do not make the same movements, we still feel our body become lighter.
in recent years, Miyoshi has proposed the concept of kinesthetic empathy with non-anthropomorphic objects. He says that we can also experience empathy through the movements of non-anthropomorphic objects, as long as these objects' dynamics can evoke our previous experiences related to motion. These experiences may come from our own bodies or from our observation of other living beings.
Our prior knowledge can also inspire us to design interfaces through a method called metaphor. The metaphorical approach allows us to use familiar, concrete things to understand abstract concepts and systems. For example, both Windows and macOS use the metaphor of folders to help users manage their files. In reality, the logic of how computers handle files is much more complex and may even be opposite to how the interface presents it. Typically, designers will look for an appropriate metaphor for a new system, but it is also valued to reverse this process and explore which prior knowledge can be used as a metaphor for designing interfaces.
So I think that plants might be a part of our prior knowledge that could inspire us to design a more intuitive and understandable way of interaction, especially the motion of plants. Besides Mimosa, perhaps we can also perceive information from the motions of other plants.
So my research question is ：How to design interaction feedback by plant-inspired motion?
Around this question, there are two main research terms:
1. what kind of motions do plants have and Which ones are useful for interaction design?
2. Do these motions of plants have the potential to convey information and what properties of information can they convey?
Therefore, first of all, I collected the different motion types of various plants through documentaries and my own life experience, and categorized them accordingly.
For example, succulents and cacti have a similar motion , expansion. This motion refers to the stretching of the plant's surface or the internal structure breaking through the external structure. Its motion track is from the center to the periphery.
Balsam and some mushrooms exhibit a sudden explosive motion, which I refer to as rebound. It involves the plant storing up energy and then suddenly releasing it, with a deformation.
I divided plant motions into two categories, structural motion and spatial motion, A total of 9 kinds of motions are included. Then, I started to try to transfer them onto analog objects, creating some movable artificial bodies.
These five dimensions are speed, scale and position, texture, and color change. For the same motion, even changing its speed curve and moving direction can affect our perception of it.
For example, we can apply different motions to the same geometric shape and see how it moves. Here, I used rebound, shrink, turn, and expand on a cylinder.
Convey infomation in a way of Metaphor
Then I combined their associations and studied the perceptions that each model's motion could bring to people. I put these motions back into the context of plants to see what kind of information they have in original context. For example, the shrinking motion may make people feel in tension, the explosive motion may feel like releasing energy or a warning.
Then, I selected the object, that most likely convey information.
And I assigned a plant role to each model, Flower, Flytrap, Cactus Branch, and Balsam. This was mainly determined by the plants that each model could be associated with and the motions that composed them.
For example, this model was originally made up of expanding and contracting motions, but it can be associated with a plant called Oxalis triangularis which will close it’s leaves because of light, as well as the blooming of flowers. So, the metaphorical interpretation of these two motions is blooming in a beneficial environment and hiding away in an unfriendly one.
so the blooming can indicate that environthement is beneficial, while hiding indicates harmful environmental information.
The motion of this object is initially composed of opening and closing, but its shape can make people think of a Venus flytrap. The Venus flytrap detects food by opening its leaves, swiftly closes to capture the prey, and then digests the food.
So detecting food can be used to represent system status; connecting/coupling. For example, the connection Bluetooth or devices.
Capturing prey can represent errors in the system, indicating a warning.
The digesting motion evokes the association of the system’s state: in the analysis.
And the branch has three motions: sway, break, and sprout. They can respectively represent resilient overload and incoming new information.
The dry and wet states of a cactus correspond respectively to the increase and decrease in quantity, as well as the transmission status of the system.
The growth and explosion of balsam represent the accumulation of information and a reminder of a Extreme value.
from Syringe to Flow IO
At first, I used syringes to create some basic prototypes. However, as I started using more air bladders, syringes became insufficient. I needed more precise control to test and record movements in a quantifiable way. That's where Flow IO's visual GUI came in handy. It allowed me to easily set up and modify actions and record them in a scheduler. It was like editing a video in post-production software. It was very similar to the user experience of editing videos in Adobe premiere.
Why I specifically need Flow IO
As I mentioned earlier, it's important for all my patterns to distinguish between different airflow speeds so users can read different types of information from each pattern. The GUI interface allowed me to achieve this by controlling PWM or by switching out different air pump modules.