Monday, May 18, 2009

What is the Designing Supple Systems project about?

This project explores the concept of supple systems and how to design them. A supple system is a device that combines custom-built hardware, sensor technology, and wireless communication, to interact with end-users and create a physical, emotional, and highly involving interaction.

Supple systems rely on subtle signals; rich human communication and interpretation strategies such as emotion, social ritual, nonverbal communication, and kinesthetic engagement; and emergent dynamics, to provide engaging moment-to-moment experiences. There are two main factors driving the evolution of supple systems. One is the rapid growth of leisure and entertainment use of technologies and the other is the commercial availability of sensor technology for tracking human expression which has lead to an increasing number of systems attempting to use such technology to provide compelling experiences. Successful examples of existing supple systems include the Nintendo WII and Apples iPhone. Designing and building supple systems is challenging because it is an unfamiliar “material” for interaction designers but also because it requires a wide range of competencies. The quality of an experience arises in interaction between users and systems. This interaction is in turn affected by a systems hardware as well as its software, and how well they work together. Even seemingly simple artefacts, such as pulse-meters, require holistic design of specialized hardware, specialized software, and specialized user interfaces to be successful. Each factor is equally important: a problem concerning any one of them can ruin an otherwise great experience.

In this project, we aim to develop a process for rapid, integrated, development of supple systems. We will focus our efforts on building so-called life-style applications, mobile systems that are tightly integrated into our every-day lives, as their often advanced use of technology highlights the challenges for future applications of supple systems – be it in factories, vehicles, or applications on our mobile phones. The systems developed within the project will explore new materials, such as fabric or paper, integrated with sensors and wireless technologies.

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