Project 1 : Augmented Body
Environments Studio — Fall 2021
Our relationship to the environment around us is continually evolving. Over long spans of time, people have developed more and more advanced methods of controlling the environment around us to the point that there are millions of people with little interaction with the “elements” of the physical world. Climate control of buildings, which keep entire skyscrapers within a range of a few degrees regardless of the season, is one simple example of the artificial environments we create. We have also long augmented our bodies, both to overcome physical disabilities and to push the boundaries of what our bodies can do.
For the next 7 days, we are going to experiment with ways that we can change a person’s relationship to their (natural) physical environment. These wearable, physical artifacts will be designed to impact our senses through amplification, dampening, distortion, isolation, etc. to have an impact on the wearer’s perception. What you design should impact two or more of the wearer’s senses.
What is our bodies relationship to its external environment?- How are our senses engaged when outdoors?- How might design be a catalyst for disruption of daily routine?- Comfort/wearability vs. discomfort/burden. When does the augmentation itself dominate our perception?
The sound of our internal voice always intrigued me ever since I realized the discrepancy between what I think I sound like versus what I actually sound like. When we speak, we simultaneously hear the vibrations of our vocal cords and the bones surrounding them — making it sound different from when we hear our voice from a recording. For some, including myself, I wince at the sound of my voice from an audio file because it sounds unfamiliar from what I am used to hearing internally. This phenomenon is so common that scientists have coined the term as voice confrontation.
What if there was a way to help bridge this gap, or at the very least tolerate, the sound of your own voice? In my search for this answer, I came across a method singers use to clearly listen to their “real” voice. Vocal coach, Chris Beatty demonstrates in the video below the two folder method, in which the individual places both folders in front of their ears. The folders act as a blockade that deflects sounds when it comes out of your mouth and reverberates around the room before it hits your eardrums. This simple structure creates a more accurate representation of what your voice actually sounds like while you hear yourself speak.
To tackle this sense of hearing, I want to experiment with different “folder” designs and see how it affects our experience when we talk.
After discussing with Daphne about the project, I realized that this mechanism focuses on the user using their own voice to simulate a new experience. I had to shift gears and ensure that this artifact would engage the users with their environment rather than within oneself. I went back to the drawing board and sketched up new ideas for the first initial prototype and decided that the sense of touch was an intriguing route to focus on.
I sketched a glove with multiple sensory inputs for the user. Each finger would encompass a particular texture such as soft, spike-y, rubbery, metallic, or brittle. The user would have a sensory overload of information coming from their fingertips and be encouraged to grab, touch, and feel different objects around their environment.
I created my first prototype based on the sketches earlier.
The image to the right is a display of a random assortment of materials to play with color, texture, and form. As I was forming this glove, I couldn’t help but think that the materials seemed a bit too random and meaningless. Why balloons? Why feathers? And why cotton balls? I found the whole assortment of materials to be a random culmination of the most distinguishable types of touch I could find, and that’s it. The glove could stand on its own, but would it actually connect the user to their environment?
Feeling stuck and unsure about my next steps, I decided to walk outside of studio and free my mind from the assortment of materials in front of me. While on my outdoor walk I looked at a row of maple trees and looked at its leaves. The leaves were big enough to cover my hand and had a velvety texture throughout its underside. I plucked some leaves to experiment with this organic matter and headed back to start my second prototype.
I started to touch, bend, curl and play with the leaves and created different forms that could wrap around the human hand. While working with this medium, I was surprised to see its flexibility. The were easy to bend and curl and had a strength to them. Its structural integrity was hindered though when I tore it with my fingernails or poke a hole through the leaf.
I tried different ways of sticking the leaves together, some materials included wires, staples, thread, and hot glue. While working around my hand, I felt the form of the leaf could be emphasized with the lines of its veins aligning with the veins in our hands. The first “finger” I made out of these leaves felt snug and at some points felt quite moist once worn for a longer period of time.
I kept adding more fingers and completed the look:
To be frank, I was horrified by this image. It looked like a green goblin looking to steal children’s toys (like the grinch but nature version). The sharp edges along the fingers did not look like an object I would want to try on, so I decided to create a mitten form instead.
This shape was far more gentle and enticing to try on. The top leaf wraps around the tips of the fingers which also helps with the structure of the material, making it much more sturdy than with individual fingers.
I then created a corresponding video to the final product.
After three days of holding onto my final product, I noticed a change in the leaves as it was slowing dying and drying out.
The leaves were darkening where the folds were and loosing its structure. It’s surface was thinning out and started to lose its form. Throughout the entire process the leaves were crackling and breaking as it was being handled more, which added to the audio experience of this object. I found this process to be much more interesting than the initial first day, because it allowed users to think about time and decay. As they interact with the world through these leaf hands, the sounds that it made started to change as well as its smell. Breaking down its organic contents, the leaves started to have an earthy smell by the 3rd day. But once it became dry enough this smell started to disappear as well.
Overall this project was a fun take on the sense of touch and hearing. I do believe wearing out in nature and interacting with plants and trees felt strange at times and quite avant garde.