DEPtH: Designing for physicality

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Computing & Communications


Context of the research
We live in an increasingly digital world yet our bodies and minds are naturally designed to interact with the physical. From electric kettles that switch themselves off when boiling, to washing machines, TV remotes and in the future increasingly automated homes, the products of the 21st century are and will be synthesise of digital and physicla elements - and for onw user these will become indistinguishable just as we do not consciously think of the wire between light switch and bulb. Similar changes have happened before, as in the movement of the mechanical and electronic factory to home. However, now the pace of change is such that waiting for craft understanding to develop is untenable, hence the need for more radical and fundamental understandings, informed by and informing practical design.

Aims and Objectives
When designing purely physical products we do not necessarilyhave to understand what it is about their physicality that makes them work - they simply have it. However, as we design hybrid physical/digital products we now have to understand what we lose or confuse by the added digitality - and so need to understand physicality more clearly than before. In this project we aim to collate and construct fundamental understanding of the nature of physicality : how humans experience, manipulate, react and reason about 'real' physical things. Through this clear understanding we will be in the position to offer constructive guidance to inform future design of innovative products.

Potential applications and benefits
The proposed work will directly impact designers faced with creating products involving digital aspects that may supplement, substitute, modify or subsume the 'normaml' physical attributes of the artefact. Ultimately, the better products will also improve the lives of ordinary users. In addition, the community development and theoretical knowledge will benefit academics in areas such as product and interaction design, ubiquitous computing, and also touch areas of cognitive, social and philosophical interest.


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Ramduny-Ellis D (2015) Physicality in Design: An Exploration in The Design Journal

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Ramduny-Ellis D (2009) Physicality and interaction in Interacting with Computers

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Dix A (2009) Physigrams: modelling devices for natural interaction in Formal Aspects of Computing

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Gill S (2008) Rapid development of tangible interactive appliances: achieving the fidelity/time balance in International Journal of Arts and Technology