Reimagining an alternative way of interacting with everyday objects through the basic joy of squeezing
Thesis Report AY16/17 Edmund Zhang A0111939A
Edmund Zhang 2016 National University of Singapore Division of Industrial Design Thesis Report Guided by Martin Danzer
Acknowledgements I would firstly like to thank Professor Martin for always being so appreciative and involved in my project. I would also like to thank my classmates for the support, and to Zhide and Yuta for the crash courses in Arduino. And to the members of LSC - Audrey, Eunice, Jing Ting, Jing Yi, Matthew and Xuxun, for being each other’s pillars of strength and braving this year together. Most importantly, to my family for everything.
What is haptic?
HAPTIC by Kenya Hara
Trends in haptic technology
Haptic interactions of today
Precedent examples of tactile interactions MonYay! by Studio 360 + IDEO Kinetic Domestic by Stine Keinicke Delirious Home by ECAL
Map of tactile interactions
Squeezing in current products
Precedent studies on squishy interactions
Uses of squeezing
Design Development 49
Inspiration and analysis
Designing intuitive interactions
Final selected ideas
Squeeze sensor refinement
Design Finalization 74
Abstract Squeezy Peasy is an exploration into the gesture of squeezing, and seeks to propose it as an alternative way of interacting with objects around us. The project was primarily spurred by a wonderment of the world of the haptics and tactile interactions. Explorations were done to expand on the possibilities that squeezing can afford and be utilized to unveil potential engaging interactions. This ultimately culminates to the design of two everyday products - a table lamp and a portable speaker, that leverages on metaphorical relationships between the interaction and their inherent functions, leading to product experiences that are pleasurable and intuitive.
Motivation I have always been fascinated and intrigued by the relationships and interactions between people and the products that they own. It seemed to be that more often than not, meaningful product interactions and experiences matter more than the function of product itself in determining the longevity of the product usage. It led me to wonder if interactions between the user and product could not only be designed in a pragmatic way, but also with a more human touch.
Background What is haptic? HAPTIC by Kenya Hara Trends in haptic technology Haptic interactions of today
Imagine holding a cup of warm coffee. You can feel the smoothness of the ceramic mug through tactile feedback, while you can grasp how heavy and large the mug is through kinesthetic feedback.
What is haptic? When one looks up the definition of “haptic” in a dictionary, it reads: Haptic: “Tactile, giving pleasure through touch” However, the relationship between the haptic and tactility can be rather complex. In the world of human-computer interaction, haptic is often a combination of two elements - the tactile and the kinesthetic.
pertaining to the sensation of pressure, vibration, touch, texture
the feeling of motion, relating to sensations originating in muscles, tendons and joints
Haptic: relating to a combination of both the tactile and kinesthetic
Larch-lined Geta by Shuhei Hasado
Hair-implanted paper lantern, KIMI TAMA by Kosuke Tsumura
Hand-shaped Gel Doorknob by Toyo Ito
Juice Skin drink packaging by Naoto Fukasawa
Mom’n baby silicone electric outlet by Matthieu Manche
Cabbage Bowls paper dishes by Yasuhiro Suzuki
HAPTIC by Kenya Hara In Kenya Hara’s book “HAPTIC”, the concept of the haptics was explored and dived deeply into. The book showcased conceptual designs by creators from various disciplines from a perspective based on trying to evoke the sense of touch. The interpretation of what constituted to a haptic experience was expounded upon, with Kenya Hara defining it as “being a treat to the touch”, beyond fulfilling its tactile qualities. Taking a step further, an interesting proposition was also made by the author, suggesting that “haptic” should ultimately refer not only to the sense of touch, but should also be able to engage and evoke all of the senses. An example to illustrate the point was made regarding how we can understand the tactile sensation of a scrub brush in one’s mouth simply by looking at the brush without actually experiencing it.
“Warm, soft and palpable to the touch. ... carrying a texture like this always makes us feel cozy and reconciled.” - From the book “HAPTIC” by Kenya Hara
The AIREAL device emits a vortex of air towards a user’s hand, which can impart a force, enabling a range of dynamic free air sensations.
A projected butterfly is simultaneously collocated with free air sensations through AIREAL, simulating a real butterfly on a user’s hand.
Apple’s trackpad utilizes an electromagnetic motor to produce subtle vibrations when pressure is being sensed. This creates an illusion of a physical click when one is using the trackpad of a MacBook.
Trends in haptic technology The ubiquity of smart computing has opened up many possibilities for interacting with products and product experiences. Technology has always been primarily focused on serving the senses of sight and hearing. However, there has been increasing interest in the haptics. One example is AIREAL, a tactile equipment developed by Disney Research. It enables one to feel objects in front of him or her in thin air without touching anything, unveiling possibilities for future interactive tactile experiences. Another example is the “Force Touch” feature developed by Apple, which is the use of pressure as a gesture. It sought to bring the sensation of texture, vibration, and motion to interactions with trackpads and screens, improving the usage experience of their products through providing a more intuitive and natural tactile feedback.
“And it (Force Touch trackpad) can respond with haptic feedback you can actually feel, making your MacBook more usable and personal than ever before.” - Apple, on the design of their latest Macbook
Google Home smart speaker
Macbook Pro’s Force Touch trackpad
Haptic interactions of today The proliferation of smart objects and devices in our homes today has reduced our interactions and experiences with objects simply to a surface. Nowadays, our hands curve around metal and plastic while our fingertips tap against flat glass screens. Our relationships with objects have seemed to become cold and sterile, with convenience and efficiency often as end goals. To me, it seemed to lack a certain “softness” or personal warmth, in contrast to the objects presented in Kenya Hara’s vision of the haptics. I began to wonder if our relationships with objects could be more tactile and pleasurable, while addressing our haptic senses beyond the visual and the auditory.
More tangibility beyond a surface?
Could haptic interactions be more engaging and pleasurable?
Opportunities Precedent examples of tactile interactions MonYay! by Studio 360 + IDEO Kinetic Domestic by Stine Keinicke Delirious Home by ECAL Map of tactile interactions Squeezable interactions Squeezing in current products Precedent studies on squishy interactions Uses of squeezing Initial explorations
Precedent examples of designing tactile interactions
MonYay! by Studio 360 + IDEO
Kinetic Domestic by Stine Kienicke
Delirious Home by ECAL
The following pages highlight three projects showcasing pleasurable and novel tactile interactive experiences with products. These conceptual projects sought to propose and conjure alternative ways of interacting with objects around us. Learning points were gleaned from these examples, summarized through sketches in the following pages which could serve as potential insights to help inform my eventual design direction.
Lolzzz wakes the user up with a child’s giggle instead of an alarm. He or she can tickle the clock to make it laugh harder, and set the clock back upright to turn it off.
Notifly is a calendar notification device that sits on the user’s desk and lets one know when one has a meeting by blowing a single bubble. It produces notifications that one can pop.
MonYay! by Studio 360 + IDEO MonYay! is a series of conceptual products with the goal of changing the mindset around work, create joyful new habits, and uncover moments of joy we might forget to notice otherwise. It seeks to make a proposition to design everyday objects that can be a little more delightful, objects with a step beyond being good at fulfilling their tasks well and reliably. All in all, it highlights the role of delight in design. It begs the question - if it is true that we use something more when we enjoy using it, then is it also fair to say a little bit of delight can go a long way in increasing usability?
As human beings we are not only rational, but emotional, and appreciate the value of humanistic and delightful products.
The doors on the flexible Flip Cabinet can be detached and rearranged thanks to magnetic spheres in the doors’ corners.
Roll Light is dimmable according to the user’s taste by rolling a glass disc that can adjust the brightness of a light source.
Tumble glass playfully rotates on its bottom due to the protruding marble, which also becomes functional for swirling wine.
Kinetic Domestic by Stine Keinicke Kinetic Domestic is a series of products designed to evoke emotional responses through movement. Comprising of a tumbler, a glass light, and a cabinet system, all of the objects’ functions are enabled through direct interaction. This project aims to create new stimulating and satisfying physical interactions beyond standardised objects like a switch and a hinge. In the designer’s opinion, a standard light switch for example, gives limited feedback to its user and its action is seemingly disconnected from its function.
Could usage gesture help inform intended function of object? Could there be a more intuitive and instinctive experience?
Voodoo facilitates a tactile interaction between people sitting in two armchairs by making one of the chairs shudder and vibrate when someone moves in the other one.
Cactunes invites people to touch a series of cacti that each emit a different sound on contact.
Delirious Home by ECAL Delirious Home explores the alternatives to the idea of the electronically connected smart home by creating products with more tangible behaviours. It seeks to propose new ways of interacting with domestic objects through a playful twist. It utilizes technology to poke fun at itself, injecting humor and personality into objects and appliances. The projects employ sensor-based technology to enhance the interaction between user and product. The series of products showcased is akin to a magic performance, mediated through electronics to conjure a sense of illusion and wonder. It reminded me of David Rose and his work centering around the concept of “enchanted objects”, a term coined by him in which electronics can be utilized to infuse ordinary things such as an umbrella or a cup with a bit of magic to create more satisfying interactions .
Good interaction design invokes discovery, made possible through utilizing technology to imbue everyday objects with a touch of magic.
Turning a knob
Flipping a switch
Pushing a button
Pulling a fan string
Map of tactile interactions
soft tactile experiences relatively untapped interactions?
I attempted to map out all of the various tactile interactions that we experience with objects in our everyday lives. I wondered about the possibility of designing for soft tactile interactions which could be palpable to the touch instead of traditional mechanical interactions such as flipping a switch or pushing a button. It led me to ponder - beyond fulfilling its intended function, could an interaction convey an emotional experience as well?
Squeezable interactions I decided to focus on the gesture of squeezing as a potential soft tactile experience to be designed around. The act of squeezing is a familiar and instinctive gesture psychologically rooted within us, yet seemed to be relatively undertapped as a product interaction. Intrigued by the sense of innate joy that naturally comes from squeezing, I wondered if I could recreate that experience through everyday objects.
An egg-shaped stress ball (left) and an edamame soybean fiddle toy (right)
Could I design an alternative way of interaction with everyday objects through the basic joy of squeezing?
Squeezing in current products I started to look at and investigate existing products that are linked to the gesture and experience of squeezing. They can largely be divided into two categories - one which squeezing is being utilized for a functional purpose (e.g. a balloon pump, dropper), and one which is linked to the visceral and emotional experience of squeezing bubble wrap or a stress ball.
a “happy hybrid”? where the usability informs the interaction and vice versa
a “pleasurable functionality”
I was interested in exploring the intersection of the two, and hoping to strive for objects which could have a sense of “pleasurable functionality”. Ultimately, the design outcome should invite interaction and user experience without undermining its original functionality.
Precedent studies on squishy interactions Some interesting and delightful designs which incorporated squeezable interactions as part of their functionality were compiled.
Egg Map by Dénes Sátor
An alternative take on the folding map, information is printed directly onto the surface, with each city district separated into different colors. The map can be zoomed in by squeezing the egg-like body.
Superpatata by Hector Serrano
One can squeeze the pillow to control the intensity of the light, changing the function of the light from either direct or ambient.
Vague Clock by Sejoon Kim
The intent of the clock is to obscure the reading of the minute and hour hands to relieve the feeling of having to chase time. It has a squishy cover that hides the time until pressed inwards.
Gel Remote Control by Panasonic Design Company
A remote control that is limp, inflating and deflating as if it is breathing when it is not in service. It instantly stiffens and lights up when it senses a hand closing around it. This was an attempt at designing an appliance with a friendly and haptic character.
A mindmap was done to explore the various effects that squeezing can accomplish
Uses of squeezing Based on the precedent studies on existing squishy objects, it made clear on how the inherent properties associated with squeezing could be utilized to facilitate a particular purpose. For example, the Egg Map cleverly harnesses the physical expansion of a foam ball when squeezed to enlarge the information printed on it as well. I proceeded to map out all of the possible physical phenomenon that squeezing can achieve.
squeeze to expand
squeeze to toggle
squeeze to reveal
squeeze to stiffen
Initial explorations Rough and quick prototypes were made to explore the potential applications of squeezing in objects.
1. Squeeze to seal
squeeze to take stopper out?
A soft ball acts as the cap for the carafe, and could be squeezed to take it off when dispensing water.
In this case, I was exploring if the stopper could serve a secondary function as a handle for pouring when taken out.
2. Squeeze to inflate/give volume
Squeezing seems to be inextricably linked to inflation. When squeezed, the elastic membrane at the front inflates.
Expanding on the theme of inflation, the thinner walls of the inflated balloon diffuses more light as compared to the deflated one.
squeeze to inflate lampshade? In this case, I was wondering about designing an inflatable lampshade, with the brightness of the light directly linked to the size of the lampshade.
It increasingly seemed to me that the dispersal of air through squeezing was inextricably linked to the intended function of an object. It led me to continue explorations utilizing the disperal of air, mediated through squeezing.
dispersal of air
3. Squeeze to facilitate motion
Disperal of air can accentuate motion, in this case, by extending paper tubes.
Disperal of air can also change the state of an object from flexible to stiff.
4. Squeeze to reveal
Dispersal of air when squeezing blows the strips of paper, showing the information behind.
Dispersal of air inflates the membrane, turning it from opaque to transluscent, revealing the time behind
squeeze to reveal time?
It got me thinking about designing a soft clock where one can perhaps squeeze to read the time.
Design Development Inspiration and analysis Designing intuitive interactions Shortlisted ideas Final selected ideas Material prototyping Prototype development Prototype usage Squeeze sensor refinement Form development
MUJI CD player by Naoto Fukasawa
“It was an amazing feeling when these two images actually synchronized in my mind.” - Naoto Fukasawa
A wall-mounted CD player that recalls elements of a kitchen fan with its intuitive on/off pull cord and visibly whirring disc.
A chair that is also a pet. The action of sitting inflates the plastic pets. When you get up, they deflate, ready to come alive for your next visit.
A radio that uses the physical act of stopping a cork as its switch. When the cork is removed, sounds begin to play from the speaker.
Inspiration and analysis While working on the project, I was suddenly reminded of the iconic CD player designed by Naoto Fukasawa for MUJI. During an interview, he mentioned that the idea that pulling a string could stir a musical device to action brought him immense warmth akin to friendliness.  This I felt, was perhaps the secret to designing pleasurable product interactions and experiences. With that, I figured that there would be two main principles that would help guide my project forward.
The act of pulling on a string to rev up the circulation of the fan blades reminded Naoto Fukasawa of how a CD starts spinning.
1. Drawing a metaphorical relationship and natural narrative Successful interaction with an object relies on a direct and natural relationship between the gesture of squeezing to the inherent function of the object.
2. Squeezing should be consequential to experience The reaction that occurs in the object has to be unique to the gesture of squeezing. If I replace squeezing with another mode of interaction, would the resulting reaction still be the same?
Designing intuitive interactions To design interactions which are pleasurable and intuitive, inspiration could be drawn from existing objects that utilize squeezing so that the mapping is familiar, leading to designs with their functionality being evident instinctively.  I began to explore possible metaphorical relationships with squeezing and tried to apply them onto potential product experiences through ideation sketches which are shown in the next spread.
“A technical system is intuitively usable... if the users’ unconscious application of pre-existing knowledge leads to effective interaction.”  Hurtienne, J. and Israel, J.H, “Image schemas and their metaphorical extensions: intuitive patterns for tangible interaction”
Even though one might not have operated and used a Dyson AirMultiplier fan (on the right) before, he or she can easily imagine and envision how it could be used based on the mental model of a household table fan.
Squeezing to reveal information like a blood pressure meter
Squeezing to provide inflation like a balloon pump
Squeezing to provide heat like a bellows
Squeezing to produce sound like an air horn
Squeezing to dispense air like a whoopee cushion
Shortlisted ideas With that, I shortlisted and explored several ideas which I felt were interesting, surprising and worth further development.
A desk lamp that offers a range of brightness by squeezing, akin to inflating a balloon. frequency of squeezing
intensity of illumination
A tabletop speaker that dispenses ambient sounds when squeezed. frequency of squeezing
level of volume
The clock hands spin and stop at positions reflecting the current time when squeezed. intensity of squeezing
speed of spin
A radiator that gets hotter the more the bellows is squeezed. frequency of squeezing
intensity of heat
A pouf that dispenses a gentle breeze of air when sat on. intensity of squeezing
speed of fan
Final selected ideas Based on personal evaluation and feedback from peers and lecturers, two ideas were eventually selected to showcase the final design direction. The ideas were evaluated against two criterias:
Longevity of usage Will users interact with the product frequently in their daily lives?
Relationship between product and interaction Does the relationship drawn feel natural and familiar to users?
The concept of a table lamp is relatively easy to assimilate into everyday life, while the idea of “inflatable” illumination feels fresh.
The concept of controlling sounds via the typology of an air horn is easily relatable and familiar. 56
The inherent functionality of a clock seems to be compromised. By hiding the time whenever one wants to see it, interaction with the object may become more of a nuisance over time.
The product typlogy is niche, and desirability is low, especially in the local context.
The idea feels gimmicky, and the metaphorical relationship feels relatively weak and forced. 57
Material prototyping I came across castable polyurethane foam while researching on suitable materials for prototyping the squeezable component for the objects. It was chosen as the optimal material for its easy-to-cast and flexible properties.
FlexFoam-iT! from Smooth-On was used to prototype the squeezable component
The casted foam test piece is squishy and extremely flexible
Casting with a two-part mold
1 Pouring the mixture into a two-part mold
2 Securing the mold with a clamp while the mixture expands
3 Removing the mold to extract the casted piece after an hour of curing time
Casting silicone skin over foam piece
Three-part mould to cast an outer silicone skin for the foam piece
1 Casted silicone skin fresh from the mold
2 Inserting foam piece into the skin
3 Foam piece fits snugly within the skin and is soft to the touch
Foam with silicone rubber skin
Foam with Dragonskin skin
Foam with Dragonskin + slacker skin
Various casted explorations to determine which one feels best to the touch while squeezing
Possibilities for silicone color dyeing were also explored
As the surface of the casted foam is porous, I wanted to cast a silicone skin to serve as the covering for it. Multiple attempts were done with different silicone types to determine the optimal silicone grade that would be comfortable to the hand and to squeeze.
Prototype development Arduino and various electrical components were also utilized to prototype the interactions centered around the two concepts. 3D printed parts were used to help assemble the prototypes.
12V DC power supply
push button 12V LED
force sensitive resistor
Arduino Uno microcontroller Main components used for lamp
Assembled lamp hooked up to Arduino
5V DC power supply
force sensitive resistor 0.5W 8 ohm speaker
audio amplifier Arduino Uno microcontroller Main components used for speaker
Assembled speaker hooked up to Arduino
Prototype usage Usage of Balloon Lamp
When the soft bulb is squeezed, the lamp lights up to a certain intensity. The brightness of the lamp grows the more the bulb is squeezed. To dim and switch off the lamp, a protruding button at the base can be depressed, akin to pressing a bicycle tyre valve to deflate the tyre.
During evaluation, it was highlighted by my peers that the mapping of the dimming button to the bicycle tyre valve was not easily relatable and understood.
Further explorations have to be made to draw a relationship that is more common and familiar to users. 64
Usage of Air Horn Speaker
When the bulb is squeezed, ambient noises are played from the speaker. In this case, background noises from a cafe were played. The volume of the speaker increases the more the bulb is squeezed. The sound “leaks” and fades off over time, prompting the user to squeeze the speaker again to continue playing.
While evaluating the prototype with my peers, a general concern raised was that the speaker seemed to lack desirability. They did not feel that an ambient noise-emitting speaker would be applicable in their lives, and the idea felt boring.
With that in mind, the functional application of the speaker could perhaps be tied more to everyday life.
Squeeze sensor refinement To detect the action of squeezing, off-the-shelf pressure sensors were initially utilized. However, it came with the limitation of only being able to detect a single axis of pressure. To overcome this, I decided to develop and fabricate my own squeeze sensor, one which could detect pressure from all directions around it.
detection of pressure
Current pressure sensors in the market only allows for detection of pressure through a single axis
I decided to experiment with making my own pressure sensors through the use of Velostat which is an electrically-conductive film, and copper tape.
Explorations and refinements of Velostat-based squeeze sensors
copper tape wire
Velostat wrapped around rod rod core
Development of a thin cylindrical squeeze sensor that is able to detect pressure from all directions
soft and friendly
Form development Being inspired by existing objects, the design of the objects should vaguely resemble and be influenced by them, picking up certain elements that constitute to those typolgies. However, the inference should not be too literal. As the objects were also centred around the theme of encapsulating surprising interactions, the forms could give a subtle hint of fun, and should arouse curiousity through a certain ambiguity of function through form. Overall, they should feel friendly and approachable to the users. Details such as gentle transitions, round proportions were picked up and considered for the eventual design.
Design Finalization Balloon Lamp Speaker Horn Limitations
Balloon Lamp A table lamp that sits quietly on your desk, providing a pool of uniform warm light when needed. The lamp switches on and incrementally increases its brightness the more it is squeezed, akin to inflating a balloon. It gradually dims until it turns off when the plug at the back is pulled out.
The lamp incrementally increases its brightness the more it is squeezed.
Pulling the plug at the back gradually dims the light.
Speaker Horn A portable speaker that can be plugged into your phone, computer or iPod to dispense music wherever you are. The speaker increases its volume the longer it is squeezed, and gradually quietens down and shuts off when it is being set upright.
The speaker can be plugged to any smartphones, computers or portable music players.
The speaker is laid on its side to switch it on.
The longer the speaker is squeezed, the louder it gets.
When placed upright, the speaker decreases its volume and switches off.
Limitations Due to time constraints and technical challenges faced, there were several limitations in the project which I hope would be addressed in the near future. As the portable speaker is currently a wired version, further development of the product should strive for a wireless Bluetooth version which would be more in line with the demands of the current market. In addition, as off-the-shelf modules such as Arduino Pro Mini, ADXL335 triple-axis accelerometer, Sparkfun’s mono audio amp were adopted, both of the products could also eventually strive to incorporate custom PCBAs and componentries within them for further refinement.
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