Designing technologies and aesthetic experiences to support embodied cognition
This practice-based research project proceeds from Richard Shusterman’s framework of somaesthetics, in which the lived body or soma is taken as a “site for aesthesis (sensory appreciation) and creative self-fashioning” (Shusterman, 2008, p. 1). Using a collaborative, design thinking methodology that incorporates first-person somatic reflection (Hanna, 1988) and third-person observation and analysis, and inspired by Sally Dean's (2014) Somatic Costumes™, I use somaesthetics to guide the design of Haplós, a torso-length piece of wearable technology that applies vibratory tactile stimulation to a person’s back. A deep and practice-led immersion into one somatic practice in particular—the Feldenkrais Method (Feldenkrais, 1990; Rywerant, 2003)—is used as a particular point of departure for the initial development of the electronic and material components of Haplós. Furthermore, the values and approaches cultivated in the Feldenkrais Method—such as curiosity, play, and systematic attention to subtle differences in kinaesthetic sensations—are used to guide the design of activities that are intended to facilitate somatic learning when used with Haplós. As a tool, Haplós can also be used in novel ways. For instance, I elaborate on the aesthetics of tactile stimuli and demonstrate how Haplós can also be used as an instrument for playing tactile vibrational compositions on human skin. I also investigate the potential of deploying and controlling Haplós remotely and interactively through a personal exploration of using Haplós across a distance with loved ones. Finally, I discuss a speculative design involving Haplós as a tool for cognitive enhancement when paired with music and a brain-computer interface. Haplós exemplifies how somatic epistemologies can be systematically applied to the design of new technologies that encourage not only somatic learning (cf. Höök et al., 2015; Schiphorst, 2008), but also novel aesthetic forms. I conclude by speculating on further applications of somatic practice to other contexts and problem domains.
Kin Design, UK (Conceptual designs for tools for somatic teaching)
Jane Grant, John Matthias, Sue Denham, Mike Phillips, Matt Wade