Touching a Stranger: Designing for Engaging Experience in Embodied Interaction

Mads Hobye, Jonas Löwgren

IJDesign Vol 5, No 3 (December 2011)

We present Mediated Body, an exploration into designing for engaging experience in embodied interaction. Mediated Body entails a Suit worn by a Performer engaging in social play with a Participant. The Performer and the Participant each wear a pair of headphones, and when they touch each other’s bare skin, they both hear a complex sound pattern. Our approach, which we call research-through-explorative-design, is a combination of experimental design in the lab and explorative design in the field, where qualitative assessments are used to elicit transferable knowledge contributions. This paper represents a case study of this somewhat innovative research approach in action. On the topical level, our results include three artifact-level elements that contribute to engaging experience: connecting touch and audio with the right balance between direct and emergent responsivity, justifying bare-skin touch between strangers, and providing open-ended action props with non-trivial internal complexity. Moreover, we suggest three experiential qualities as analytical tools pertaining to engaging experience in embodied interaction: the duality of performative immersion, the “magic circle” of transformative social play, and the explorative nature of emergent meaning-making.