purple balloons with questions written on them

Celebration and contemplation at the Design & Emotion Conference

This year’s Design & Emotion conference at Amsterdam’s Pakhuis de Zwijger was a great opportunity to pause for “Celebration & Contemplation” – this year’s theme. Speakers included renowned Dutch designers Maarten Baas and Christien Meindertsma. The Design & Emotion Society asks how we as designers and design researchers can explore and integrate the emotional experiences of design through products, services or interactions with new technologies. The conference opened up on a playful and thought-provoking note. We all wrote a research question we’d like explore through the conference events on a balloon. The stage became a sea of purple balloons and design research questions (such as: Sustainability versus design versus emotion?)  

Technology-supported emotion measurement

We presented STBY’s Auto-Cam project at a breakout session on ‘User Research Tools’, in which we shared our work and learned about other projects exploring new approaches to user research and its tools. My interest in this topic led me to attend my favourite event of the conference, a short workshop called “Technology-supported emotion measurement”, led by Katja Thoring, Frederik Bellermann, Roland Mueller, Petra Badke-Schaub, and Pieter Desmet. These designers, researchers and scholars are working at the forefront of this emerging space, looking at how new technologies can be used for new forms of design research.

beamer screen with diagram of emotion framework

We first had a look at the landscape of technologies available for ‘emotion measurement’ – some technologies I am familiar with (such as the Autographer wearable camera, or the GoPro), and some I found out about for the first time – like the Emotiv EEG headset, a wireless headset which can measure facial expression and map this to various emotions (e.g. excitement, nervousness, jealousy, etc.). However, ‘emotion measurement’ is in itself a complex topic to research. Just what is meant by ‘emotion’ to begin with? And is this something we can somehow objectively measure? Pieter Desmet walked us through just some of the ‘types’ of emotion we can measure – from behavioural (e.g. bodily or facial expression) to verbal self-reports, to visual self-reports. ‘Emotion’ itself can be seen in a broader framework of mood, affect and emotion which makes for a complex area to navigate and research.

In only a short time, they gave us a great overview and introduction to the topic at hand.  We split into groups and were each given this handy deck of cards, ‘New Technologies for New Design Research’, which included a card for each technology we could explore and think about in terms of its potential application. How might we as design researchers use aerial drones as a research tool? We were asked to as a group consider a research question we have and come up with a plan to use some of these new technologies to explore it.

cards with research tool names and explanations

My group asked the question “How do professional athletes experience sports massage?” (One of us was a designer at a performance wear company, who was very interested in the topic). It turned out to be a rich question to explore in this context, thinking about the different technologies we could use. We came up with a research approach that included having athletes wear an Emotive EEG headset before, during and after a massage, to measure their brain activity and emotion throughout the experience. We also posited using an aerial drone, to visually capture the experience of a sports massage on the massage table (as long as the aerial drone is quiet enough to not disturb them!). We would then interview the athletes to hear from them directly on their massage experience, and discuss with them together changes or improvements they would like to see.

Even though it was a fictional and relatively quick exercise in designing a research approach, it was a hands-on way to think about how we can use and make the most of these technologies as design researchers. Are we far off from using aerial drones and wireless EEG headsets in our design research? This workshop brought us face to face with newer technologies that will continue to become more widespread, in design research and beyond.   

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