Marco Triverio / Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design
Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID)
Simple, with a touch of soul. – Julia Whitney
Paired objects are a common trope, but this was beautifully poised, and just real enough that I could see using it every day. – Matt Webb
Seeing other peoples fingers typing in a mirror of their touch screen was nice graphic thinking. – Jack Schulze
Communicating with someone special is not necessarily about content going back and forth, it is often about feeling the presence of that person. ‘Feel Me’ is an ‘app’ that creates a sweet, playful connection with the other side through a nonverbal, interactive channel. ‘Feel Me’ presents itself as a messaging application. Yet, when both parts are using the app, ‘Feel Me’ shows where the other person is touching the screen. Touching the same spot triggers a vibration, which acknowledges that both parts are ‘there’ at the same time.
‘Feel Me’ is a simple and new way to enrich digital communications.
A big part of our communications now happens digitally. Emails, texts, phone calls, video calls, and many others have become part of our life and part of the way we keep in contact with the people we feel closer to. Digital communications tend to be widely ‘explicit’. It is easy to transmit words and content, while there is limited space for the nuances that characterize daily face-to-face interactions. In particular, technology provides many ways to communicate – and, thus, deliver information – but often neglects the need for people to connect nonverbally. The widespread use of smileys shows that there is a desperate need for a more expressive and more personal digital world.
Finally, the almost ubiquitous presence of handheld device is not only strengthening the digital layer between people, but it is also increasing the quantity of our digital dialogues. A limit in the capabilities of our devices becomes a limit in the “digital language” that we can use to express ourselves in such conversations.
My challenge was then to enrich digital communications either by creating new means of expression or by making technology feel more human. ‘Feel Me’ is my thesis project at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID) and it has been designed and implemented in the time frame of 10 weeks.
‘Feel Me’ has been developed during the 10-week final project of the 1-year Master Programme in Interaction Design offered by the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID, www.ciid.dk). I have joined CIID after finishing my studies in Computer Engineering/Computer Science with the intention of balancing my technical skills with my creative attitude. At CIID I have learned the people-centered approach and I have practiced a design process that is thoughtful and empathetic towards its users.
For these reasons I believe I have approached this project with enthusiasm in the user research phase and with a good ability to rapidly build and iterate in the prototyping phase.
Even though at no point in the project I have explicitly designed for people in a long-distance relationship, ‘Feel Me’ has been incredibly appealing for partners who live apart. I myself have experienced long-distance relationships in several occasion (and when at CIID too).
‘Feel Me’ is the result of a thorough design process. After a round of desk research and inspirational user research, I have involved a broad range of stakeholders to better understand the context and to assess the need for richer digital communications. Most of the interviewees were between 14 and 50 years old, but I have also talked to two elderly people (70 and 92 years old) to try to get to the root of what meaningful communications are. Moreover, involving several teenagers has proved particularly useful to understand an extreme use of current technologies. Towards the end of the people research phase, I have started a parallel exploration (called ‘Motions’ and still available at http://motions.marcotriverio.com) to understand what simple shapes, such as squares and circles, can convey when animated. This experiment has helped me realize that much can be expressed without necessarily relying on anthropomorphic traits, yet a single universal interpretation might not always surface. Shortly after this parallel exploration I have begun ideating. Most of the concepts built on the insight for which people love and need impactful communications but are less and less willing to engage in them. I have then built around twenty prototypes using cardboard and acrylic (also see the four videos at http://feelme.marcotriverio.com) and involved more users (this time between 17 and 32 years old) to get feedback and to iterate. Most of the prototypes were comprised of several parts that could be rearranged by the interviewees, who thus co-created the next iterations. All these sessions have helped narrow down the ideas with the greatest potential. In particular, having a real-time, interactive, and nonverbal channel seemed to trigger a delightful emotional reaction. For this reason I have decided to further investigate this idea by building a fully working prototype. In just a few days I have then created an iPhone app that can link two phones, visualize – bidirectionally – where the person on the other phone is touching the screen, and interact with the other side by triggering a vibration every time the same spot is touched. This prototype has then been tested with five couples between 14 and 36 years old. This concept greatly resonated with the younger couples, who went as far as stating that for the first time the phone did not seem a machine. They truly appreciated feeling the presence of the person on the other side while not being fully engaged —as they would have been instead with a phone call. The final iteration involved polishing the app by making it compelling to be used on a daily basis. In the latest version the idea of a real-time, interactive, and non-verbal channel is integrated in a messaging app, thus providing a smooth transition between asynchronous and synchronous communications.
Finally, ‘Feel Me’ has been exhibited at CIID 2011 End of the Year Exhibition, where hundreds of people have had the possibility of trying it.
‘Feel Me’ is a simple yet new way to enrich digital communications. ‘Feel Me’ proposes a new paradigm in which presence is the most important element of interaction. Content can still be delivered through asynchronous messages. Nevertheless presence is what enables people to truly feel connected. Some of the users involved in the research phase have praised the convenience of asynchronous communications (such as text messaging), which do not require a continuous engagement. Yet, they have also portrayed such communications as sterile and cold. Synchronous conversations (such as phone calls), on the other hand, have been described as a more personal way of staying in touch. They in fact require users to be present for the person on the other side, thus creating a more direct connection.
‘Feel Me’ bridges the gap between synchronous and asynchronous communications. ‘Feel Me’ appears as a messaging application. Yet, when both parts are using the application at the same time, ‘Feel Me’ shows where the other person is touching the screen. Each touch on the screen is represented with a dot on the other side. Furthermore, touching the same spot makes the phone vibrate, acknowledging that both parts are ‘there’ at the same time.
‘Feel Me’ enriches our communications with a soft and non-verbal layer, which resembles – without mimicking – how we interact when we are in the same physical space.
‘Feel Me’ is not just a concept. It is a fully working prototype.