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Augmenting subjectives experiences (part II): some examples of smart textiles designs

Incrementando experiencias subjetivas (segunda parte): algunos ejemplos del diseńo de tejidos inteligentes

Oscar Tomico
Department of Industrial Design, University of Technology, Eindhoven

With the purpose of easing of people’s dislikes, aversions and fears in everyday life that lead to unpleasant subjective experiences, students from several study programs explored the emerging possibilities of combining textile materials, multimodal information technology and interaction design techniques to create more emotionally rich experiences. The following conceptual examples (lighting curtains, wax de luxe, story pets and hugging friends) provide descriptions and analysis of the unpleasant experiences that were chosen for improvement, the augmented experiences generated, the product concepts and the emotional impacts. 

The unpleasant subjective experience addressed with the lighting curtains concept was the shock and dismay that occurred after being woken early in the morning by an alarm sound. The generated augmented subjective experience was to create a natural way of waking up, much like waking up with the sunrise. When we wake up with light it is because a reduction of the secretion of melatonin hormone, the natural regulator of sleep-wake cycles.1 On the other hand, when we wake up with a high sound from an alarm clock the body segregates adrenaline, which plays a central role in the short-term stress reaction (it is the physiological response to threatening, exciting or environmental stressor conditions such as high noise levels).

The product developed was a light-emitting curtain connected to a mobile phone and programmed to increase the amount of light minutes before the alarm starts. To stop the alarm and the light from the curtains the user would have to open the curtains (fig. 1). The emotional impact of this experience prototype helped the user to have a natural awakening experience, as a gradually increasing light can be considered more relaxing and non-disturbing. Allowing connectivity with electronic devices also made this curtain suitable for other uses. It could be a critical objects reminder (use extra sockets in the electric supply connection to communicate with Bluetooth to the curtain), for example a steady light on the sides, which signifies that the oven is on.

Figure 1. Image samples from the conceptual experience scenario from the lighting curtains concept Orhan Daybelge, Korhan Büyükdemirci and Michihito Mizutani.

The unpleasant experience addressed in the wax de luxe concept was related to cleaning clothes and the way to verify if they are dirty. Students analyzed the never-ending exasperating experience of going inside your children’s room to pick up dirty clothes from a messy pile. They concluded that smelling clothes on the floor to determine which are clean or dirty triggered an unpleasant subjective part of the experience. The generated augmented experience was to create a new way of perceiving dirt in the clothes instead of smelling them. They considered communicating with the clothes in such a way that they «tell» you if they are dirty or not. The product developed was a special textile for clothing or for a clothes label that reacts to the PH level (acidity) changing the color after a certain period of time (fig. 2).

Figure 2. Image samples from the conceptual experience scenario from the wash de luxe concept by Paula Susitaival, Alexandre Estadieu, Hong and Joonas Juutila.

The emotional impact of these textiles is based on informing the user of odors by changing color as the odor level passes a certain standard. Unpleasant odors can evoke unpleasant memories and avoiding this perception can help easing anger in this situation. Studies on the effects of pleasant and unpleasant odors on retrieval of happy and unhappy memories reveal that subjects in a pleasant odor condition produced a significantly greater percentage of happy memories than did subjects in an unpleasant odor condition.2 This can be considered added brand value in terms of the customer’s feeling of security and well-being and is also suitable for other uses. For example, these textiles applied to children’s clothing can also be educational as they teach appropriate cleanliness.  

In the story pets concept, the unpleasant subjective experience was the loneliness that people have because a less real, face-to-face contact with other people, affecting their abilities to share and be empathic. This situation worsens with communication between different age groups. Nowadays, the contact between elders and their grandchildren tends to decrease, as most adults move from their parent’s homes and are busy with their own lives. The care and support among individuals in a community is essential for everyone. Due to different reasons, some elders may become socially isolated. Preventing and alleviating social isolation and loneliness among older people is an important area to study. The review of health promotion interventions suggests that educational and social activity group interventions that target specific groups can alleviate social isolation and loneliness among older people.3 With this product concept, the generated augmented experience was to create something in which grandparents and younger generations would share an interest.

The idea for the story pets was to create an attractive product for children, in this case stuffed animal-shaped gloves, covered with a chameleon fiber textile that changes color when «hungry» and has to be fed with stories from elderly people (fig. 3). This product was designed to bridge a generation gap, to enable communication face to face through storytelling and even to create accidental friendships. For kids, this product can increase their curiosity about the past and elderly people through their stories. For elderly people, this product can help them to share their experiences and feel valuable and useful.

Figure 3. Image sample from the conceptual experience scenario from the story pets concept by Simone Pallotto, Minttu Wikberg, Maja Gecic and Vilja Helkiö.

In the hugging friends concept, the stress reactivity that arises when people get lost in an unknown space was the subjective experience to improve. It focused on urban people moving in cities, such as a family or groups of friends that want to stay together, and explored the situation where young children feel lost (e.g. in the metro, park, museum) because of lack of visual contact. The generated augmented experience was to carry your friends in your pocket and to support finding friends or relatives through an analogy with the cold/warm game. The subjective enhancement is based in that attachment security in childhood is related to the warmth of their relationship and moderates the physiological consequences of fearful, inhibited temperaments. 4

Figure 4. Image samples from the conceptual experience scenario from the hugging friends concept by Maikki Rytkönen, Richard Widerberg and Erja Alander.

The product developed was a human-shaped doll that becomes warmer when someone carrying a doll with the same clothing is near (fig. 4). Different clothing can be made for different settings and different groups. The clothing changes color according to temperature, but only changes color for the people from the group that are near.

Because this soft tactile product becomes warmer and warmer as the friends or relatives come closer it stimulates a relaxing feeling of proximity (security attachment) and makes the user look forward to giving and receiving a handshake or a hug (physical contact that can be considered warm). The user will respond to the artifact’s function with natural human interaction activity. Moreover, opening its arms means the user is open to meet someone. Closed arms mean the person is trying to protect himself/herself. (fig. 5). This product was designed with the idea of keeping track of each other and can be applied to families, group of tourists and children in the kindergarten. But could also be used as a game (e.g. playing with your friends in the urban jungle).

Figure 5. Image samples from the on/off sequence in hugging friends concept by Maikki Rytkönen, Richard Widerberg and Erja Alander.


These design examples give an idea about the usefulness of users sharing their needs, desires and fantasies and even their dislikes, aversions and fears with designers in order to create meaningful experiences. Moreover, they show how designing for experiencing, as augmenting subjective experiences, is a creative and powerful source of innovation and a door open to a non-intrusive introduction of new technologies in everyday life.



This essay was partially extracted from:

- Tomico, O., Hailahti, H. and Lloveras, J. «Augmented subjective experiences: a non-intrusive way of introducing smart textiles into the everyday life», In: User Experience – Towards a unified view workshop at NordiCHI 2006, Oslo, Norway. October 2006.

- Tomico, O.: «Subjective psychological exploration techniques based in the constructivism paradigm for informational and inspirational purposes», PhD thesis, Technical University of Catalunya, 2007.



1. Cajochen C., Krauchi K. & wirz-Justice (2003) A. Role of melatonin in the regulation of human circadian rhythms and sleep. J. Neuroendocrinology 15, 432–437.
2. Ehrlichman H, Halpern JN. (1998) Affect and memory: effects of pleasant and unpleasant odors on retrieval of happy and unhappy memories. J. Pers Soc Psychol. 1988 Nov; 55(5): 769-79.
3. Cattan, M., white, M., bond, J. & Learmonth, A. (2005) Preventing social isolation and loneliness among older people. Ageing and Society 25: 41-67.
4. Gunnar M.R., Brodersen L., Nachmias M., Buss K., Rigatuso J. Stress reactivity and attachment security (1996) Developmental Psychobiology 29(3): 191-204.


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