Expressive Wearables: Practices-Oriented Codesign for New Forms of Social Mobile Technology

Expressive Wearables: Practices-Oriented Codesign for New Forms of Social Mobile Technology

Felix Anand Epp (Aalto University, Aalto, Finland)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/IJMHCI.2019100101
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Self-expression is a vital practice for a functioning social life. Wearables have become expressive everyday products, while studies showed how physical collocation can be an opportunity for social technology. This article identifies a perspective for future design of wearables as an extension of the body in its social context: designing for diversity in expression with respect to social boundaries. The collected literature demonstrates the development of new forms of expressive wearables that challenges norms of dress and three groups of participatory methods enable re-search into everyday life practices. The two initial studies—inquiring into everyday life and exploring the wearable design for new practices—exemplify these methods and point a way forward with a focus for design on distinct practices of self-expression.
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In Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) there is a history for improving interactions between people occupying the same space and time. Already in the last century collocated social interactions have been supported by digital badges or public displays in conference settings to initiate face-to-face interactions or group awareness (Falk & Björk, 1999; McCarthy, 2002). Forming connections between people through mobile devices based on physical collocation is not just research anymore (Eagle & Pentland, 2005), but everyday reality with commercial applications like happen (‘happn - Find the people you’ve crossed paths with’, n.d.).

Ongoing advancements in computing technology enables an ever-increasing variety of wearable devices and smart clothing. With these computing capabilities digital information reaches all aspects of life, including social interactions in physical space. Research in HCI investigates wearables not merely as personal items. When worn in visible range to others, these wearables become public – so called social public displays. These displays take the form of mobile devices with additional displays (Jarusriboonchai, Malapaschas, Olsson, & Väänänen, 2016), smartwatches (Pearson, Robinson, & Jones, 2015), clothing (Mackey, Wakkary, Wensveen, & Tomico, 2017), accessories (Colley, Pakanen, Koskinen, Mikkonen, & Häkkilä, 2016; Rantala, Colley, & Häkkilä, 2018) or body augmentations (Dierk, Sterman, Nicholas, & Paulos, 2018; Hartman, McConnell, Kourtoukov, Predko, & Colpitts-Campbell, 2015). With this, mobile devices become more than a computing interface for the wearer but extend the wearer’s body with new forms of expression in its social context.

The dynamic information presented by such displays, whether implicit (e.g. changing colours in a dress) or explicit (e.g. displaying a political statement), can change the impression we have on others. But in social life managing these impressions is vital to form relationships, whether in professional or private life (Goffman, 1959; Leary & Kowalski, 1990). This form of presenting oneself to others does not just serve to make a “good impression”, but also to express identity or belonging to a group, e.g. a student wearing a distinct outfit as a way to identify with his faculty.

From research in online social networks we know now, that these connections do not just improve social life, but can be demanding (Van Dijck, 2013). In particular the design of social media platforms like Facebook requires to present a uniform persona, which sometimes disturbs people’s behaviour to present different roles to different people (Farnham & Churchill, 2011; Van Dijck, 2013).

Besides empirical research on smartwatch use in context (McMillan et al., 2017) HCI research has mainly focused on enhancing social interactions through computer-mediated communication within a distinct context of planned events like education and conferences (Chen & Abouzied, 2016; Nelimarkka, 2018) or activities, like sports (Mauriello, Gubbels, & Froehlich, 2014). But contrary to a lot of works the context of use is rarely static (Jumisko-Pyykkö & Vainio, 2012), especially when we consider that wearables are constantly with us. With computing technology entering the physical space through smart textiles, clothes turn towards dynamic expression. Fashion as an aspect of shaping identity and social life needs to be considered besides mere investigations of information exchange (Juhlin, 2015; Mackey et al., 2017; Tomico, Hallnäs, Liang, & Wensveen, 2017).

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