IEEE World Haptics 2021 workshop

Touch Tools:
Bringing Social-Sensorial Tools into Digital Touch Design

5th July 2021, 11.00-14.00 Eastern Time

This workshop aims to engage participants with new ways of thinking about the design of digital touch interaction and communication applications, through a focus on the use and development of social-sensorial ‘touch tools’. In so doing, it aims to bring Social Science perspectives into haptics design, traversing interdisciplinary boundaries and enabling new approaches across Computer Sciences, Engineering, HCI, and Design.

The term ‘digital touch’ has come to comprise a broad group of emerging technologies or interfaces that digitally mediate or deliver touch sensations. Technological advances in wearables, robotics and haptics bring with them novel opportunities for tactile interaction, new tactile communication systems and vocabularies. These developments often focus on the effectiveness of tactile communication and its affective implications. For a variety of technical and practical reasons, research and development in this area have largely occurred in labs and experimental settings. These contexts lend themselves to the use of established social categories and parameters (e.g. taking into account, or making assumptions about, users’ sex, age, relations). This workshop looks beyond psychological, psychophysical and neuroscientific interpretations of ‘social touch’. It seeks to broaden and differently illuminate concepts of the social and sensorial in digital touch development and design in the fields of HCI and Interaction Design. Through an engagement with novel design tools, it aims to open up this space to the diversity of bodily experiences, the complexity of interactional contexts, and the different possible meanings of touch for interaction and communication.

In the workshop, we will explore ways to achieve this through an engagement with existing ‘touch tools’, that is, design tools which seek to inspire, provoke, interrogate, and reflect on the social-sensorial dimensions of touch and digital touch as part of the design process. The tools promote speculative thinking to enable developers, engineers and designers to step in and out of concrete user contexts, interrogating human-to-human and human-to-machine (or other) relations in the process.

Three short provocations by interdisciplinary scholars and industry experts will set the scene for the workshop, outlining the need for touch tools with reference to the current digital touch landscape, existing concepts, prototypes and design processes. These will be followed by an introduction to specific examples of touch tools and an opportunity for participants’ hands-on engagement with these. Specifically, small-group breakout sessions will enable hands-on activities with two (virtual) card-based tools and a set of searchable haptic content tools. Collaborative discussion around ideas and concepts inspired through the workshop activities will aim to consolidate insights and identify future opportunities for touch tools.

The workshop will provide participants with the opportunity to engage in new ways of thinking about digital touch design. It will bring the social and sensory aspects into play; generate insights into ongoing design challenges for digital touch applications; create opportunities for developing cross-disciplinary collaborations around touch tools; and work towards a future-facing agenda for tool development and wider dissemination.

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