Enabling through design : explorations of aesthetic interaction in therapy and care

P. Marti

    Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 1 (Research TU/e / Graduation TU/e)

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    Digital products generally place demands on our cognitive abilities, and deny us the opportunity of building bodily skills (Djajadiningrat et al, 2007). We have a body, we have our senses to dialogue with the environment around us. Why does interaction design not use these skills in a more comprehensive and systematic way, making interaction with technology more tangible, embodied and expressive? As human beings we are guided in our life by intentions and emotions. Why then are we not able to make interaction with technology a more beautiful, attractive and engaging experience? Aesthetic and embodied interaction is a central theme of this thesis and disability is the area chosen to challenge it. Four Design Cases were developed to show the fundamental role that design could play in counteracting the impression of inconvenience of the disability condition that many rehabilitation aids inherently manifest. The ultimate objective was to exalt the beauty of interaction and satisfaction of recovery. The thesis is composed of two main parts enclosing a collection of ten peer reviewed journal or conference papers that forms the core. The first part clarifies the theoretical and methodological approach. The Aesthetics of Interaction was considered as a new foundation for rich and embodied interaction which aims at engaging all our senses in the design of products of everyday use. The approach was particularly challenging since it was applied in contexts where perceptual and cognitive skills are reduced or impaired. Designing in context was the methodology used to develop the research. Being inspired by the phenomenological orientation toward studying the human activity in context, this methodology provided means and techniques to explore the mundane reality of everyday life of disabled people, their careers and the related socio-cultural milieu. It also allowed to develop design sensitivities that were used to focus on different aspects of aesthetic and embodied interaction in the Design Cases. The second part contains four Design Cases that exemplify different orientations toward aesthetic and embodied interaction. The first Design Case is a system to support dementia care. Tangible interactive objects called Rolling Pins were developed to stimulate non verbal dialogues between therapists and elderly affected by dementia. In fact speech becomes increasingly inefficient with the progress of the disease. Progressive short-term memory difficulties and problems with new learning make conversations and other social interactions problematic. The Rolling Pins embedded by design a concept of reciprocity and coordination. The focus of aesthetic and embodied interaction was based on empathic tuning associated to choreographic movements and embodied playful exploration as pivotal concepts for design. The system allowed the elderly to explore expression modalities, establish empathic relations and create a shared communication code with the therapist. The second Design Cases is a system of floating tiles called Active Surfaced used to support aqua therapy for children with physical and cognitive disabilities. Therapeutic sessions are conceived as playful activities where children have to assemble the tiles into meaningful configurations defined by the therapist. The system design focuses on play as a means to counteract the boredom of repetitive exercises and to combine motor and cognitive skills in the therapeutic practice. Moreover it addresses autonomy by exploiting the beneficial properties of the water including buoyancy that assists in supporting the weight of the person, viscosity that allows for muscle strengthening without the need of weights, hydrostatic pressure that improves posture awareness and the warmth that assists in relaxing muscles. The third Design Case discusses a fundamental concern deriving from the need to increase the focus on the social, emotional and intimate aspects in the design of technologies for the care of premature babies. Two prototypes were developed to provide unobtrusive monitoring, improving the baby’s comfort as well as parent-child bonding by lowering the emotional barrier created by the current incubator setup. The fourth Design Case is a robot that engages in educational games with children with different motor and cognitive disabilities. The Design Case has a focus on perceptual crossing as a means to explore shared intentionality through mutual regulation of joint actions and perception. Shared intentionality, that is the ability to read the others’ mind, is a social competence that people with cognitive disabilities, in particular autistic people, often do not have. The robot proved to be beneficial in exploring and acquiring such competence. The research conducted in this thesis provided theoretical and methodological means as well as concrete case studies to reflect on the role that design can play in turning a functional approach in the development of rehabilitation technologies into an aesthetic experience. Different view points were assumed to experiment a specific variation of design focus: empathic tuning (Case 1), play and autonomy (Case 2), intimacy, fragility and (in)visibility (Case 3), perceptual crossing (Case 4). The final chapter concludes by discussing lessons learnt and sketching topics for future development and research.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Industrial Design
    • Overbeeke, Kees, Promotor
    • Hummels, Caroline C.M., Promotor
    • Aarts, Emile, Promotor
    • Bruns, Miguel, Copromotor
    Award date28 Feb 2012
    Place of PublicationEindhoven
    Print ISBNs978-90-386-3089-2
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


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