From Material Exploration to Advanced Prototype ✢

At the end of last week we switched our focus from material exploration, back to thinking about the goal or purpose of our project. This required us to ask ourselves the following question: “What does it mean to cry?” We did some quick research and also shared our thoughts with each other on the subject, which led to some important insights:

  1. Crying is an outburst (sometimes uncontrollable) of emotions
  2. It helps to form and strengthen social bonds
  3. It is also a self-soothing behaviour, which helps to maintain an emotional and physical balance (the body releases oxytocin and endorphins)
  4. If crying has emotional, physical, and social benefits, why is it taboo?

We also looked up some idioms and phrases with the word crying, such as “No Use Crying Over Spilled Milk” or “To Break Down And Cry” for possible inspiration later (see shared Figma frames below).

Our thoughts and research on the topic of crying and tears, as well as phrases and idioms

With these insights we were able to start off our first day of the week with a speed dating matrix. We first made several 3 minute rounds to individually sketch out ideas, which we then shared with each other afterwards.

A speed dating matrix to help inspire and get us started on the advanced prototype

Doing the speed dating matrix helped our group to reduce self-censorship, and also provided a good foundation for discussion and further ideation. We discussed a wide range of ideas, for instance translating the tears being wiped on your sleeve to another surface, such as a wall, or even a suit. Another idea was to visualize tear drops falling into a pool of tears—though we realized this was less embodiment. In the end we decided to develop a prototype that would embody the act of crying. This would allow us to try and recreate a similar tension in the body, for instance, and maybe consider acoustics (e.g. a crying scream).

Sketches from the speed dating exercise

Our prototyping for the day was a series of experiments which attempted to recreate the tension or restriction one feels in the body when they are about to cry or are crying. One of our initial ideas was to use wax to make a wearable that would allow the user to move freely when it’s melted, but as the wax cools and solidifies the user would be unable to move. We quickly discovered, however, that the wax can’t melt and cool fast enough to work in real time.

Exploring wax as a suitable material for tension/restricting movement

Another idea we had was to create this tension or restriction by vacuum sealing plastic with a material inside the plastic. The idea was inspired from the vacuum sealed coffee grounds you can buy in the grocery store. We were interested in how a finely ground material could become solid/rigid within a matter of seconds, simply by removing the air out of its container. Our aim was to translate this idea into a wearable or suit that would allow the user to move freely until their body began to tense up from crying. Unfortunately our attempts were thwarted. The coffee grounds kept shifting in our prototype glove all the way into the fingers.

Coffee grounds jam-packed into the fingertips of the glove prototype

We then began to fill materials with air in order to provide a kind of hugging sensation for the body. Our first prototype for this actually used water wings—yes, the inflatable swimming aids for children. We placed the water wings around our arms and legs and hooked them up to an air compressor to test the effects out. What we found was that if you place the device above or below the joint it feels more awkward to move than if placed directly on the joint.

Prototyping with air pressure as a way to recreate a feeling of tension or restriction; Music: №9 Esther’s Waltz by Esther Abrami, YouTube Audio Licence Library

In addition to recreating the feeling of tension and restriction, we also tried to 3D print an object which would make a crying sound, as we had considered incorporating acoustics into the wearable/suit. Unfortunately our 3D print did not work and we will have to reprint to properly test it. There were also some more experimental moments from the day where we played with water, as well as the mask we had made from the previous week (see a compilation below).

Experimenting with water, air, and plastic bubble wrap
Crying mask

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Interaction Design students from the Zurich University of the Arts documenting their process during the Embodied Interaction module.

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AK | CS | RE | ZU

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Interaction Design students from the Zurich University of the Arts documenting their process during the Embodied Interaction module.

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