Decomputation took a sensory turn over the last term and, calling itself DeSense, created work for the London festival Open Senses. Our interest in human and non-human senses echoes the work we did on the Pigeon Sensorium last year and connects with an understanding of human-technology relations as increasingly embodied. From immersive environments to bespoke physical controllers and full-body interactions, human senses are experiencing a new attention from designers interested in expanding outwards from the traditional input mechanisms of digital devices and systems. Along with discoveries in the natural sciences such as the micro-biome, and research in psychology into embodied cognition, this sensory turn in design attempts to position human physical abilities at the centre of how we experience the world, a counter perhaps to the rise of VR which threatens to overtake or subdue human senses. We decided to focus on proprioception. Proprioception is a kinesthetic sense, it provides the parietal cortex of the brain with information about the movement and position of parts of the body. Proprioception can be developed – pianists find the correct keys without looking at them, ballet dancers know exactly how they are positioned relative to the stage and their partners. As designers were were interested in making this innate sense more perceivable by disrupting it through physical embodied experiences.
Valeriya Zaytseva and Thibaut Evrard designed and made a set of adjustable clogs inspired by Japanese geta. People could choose the height and slope of the soles then strap their own shoes to the clogs. The modular system was colour coded for difficulty and height, playing on our natural sense of proprioceptive ability when walking. Visitors to Open Senses were willing participants in the scenario evoked by the design and the system demonstrated some well developed thinking about how to engage people in public situations.
Linh Pham and Greg Orrom-Swan designed some objects that hampered people’s ability to drink from a paper cup. A cup on the end of a long swinging copper rod, a cup at the end of a large copper spiral and a cup on a copper spring enforced a high degree of hand-eye communication and careful positioning of mouth to cup. Their design language, using wood and copper, contrasted effectively with the conical paper cups and contributed to the sense of a family of objects. The system was well designed to provide a playful demonstration of proprioceptive misalignment.
Taeyoung Choi and Hangna Koh designed a sound-related drawing experience. People were required to choose their colour and follow a sound with their pen, pressing their ears firmly against the paper in order to detect the directional movement of a sound across the reverse surface. The end result was a multilayered tracery of participation and, more significantly, a shared embodied experience, demonstrating the proprioception of sound awareness.
Makiko Takashi made a wearable sound helmet that severely restricted the angle of sight of the wearer, forcing them to rely on peripheral vision and auditory cues to navigate the room. The design was based on the swaying motion of jellyfish, it transformed people into other worldly alien creatures shuffling slowly around the space, bumping gently into the furniture. The costume-as-experience approach holds a rich possibility for future interactions and artworks.
Rob Marshall made a series of augmented and impeded glasses. One pair, with spirit levels, made people attempt to keep their heads upright. Another inverted the field of vision, making it extremely difficult to draw or write. A third pair, with 45º mirrors only allowed people to see what was next to them, rather than in front. These simple interventions accomplished the rare design success of an economy of means, a familiar set if interactions, a clear task based experience, and a playful challenge.