The Augmented Body

Fall 2021—1 week


Over time, humans have been developing more advanced ways of connecting to the environment. In addition to having more control over our surroundings, augmenting the body has enhanced or recovered human senses to create new experiences and interactions.

Experiment with ways that we can change a person’s relationship to their natural environment. Design wearable, physical artifacts that impact two or more senses and influence the wearer’s perception.

  • In what ways do our senses interact with the natural environment?
  • How does enhancing vs. disrupting our senses impact our perception?
  • What are some current designs that connect people to their surroundings?

Before looking deeper into new design solutions, I first searched for examples of wearable designs to expand my knowledge on the space. I was curious to see what innovations are currently being made to shape people’s interactions in the future.

Recent research in the wearables space (MIT, Wearable Technology Lab, Stanford)

Initial Idea Development

“Sensory design honors the pulse of living, breathing space.”

This quote from Lupton and Lipps’ novel about senses reminded me the steady vibrations or hum that engages one’s senses when stepping outside.

When thinking about which senses bring me closest to my “natural environment,” and I immediately thought of the sounds of cicadas and the buzzing sounds outdoors.

This made me think about the white noise that exists in the natural world that can rarely be accessed in indoor settings. The “background sounds” of nature such as cicadas and other bugs are often key features of a natural space, and I started thinking about ways this unique sound could be enhanced.

I started sketching out some possibilities for a wearable that would interact with sound and visuals.

initial idea

Based on this general concept, I started prototyping some quick ideas on what materials could be used for a wearable device. I wanted to first experiment with flexibility and sturdiness, so I used the Cricut cutter to test out basic cuts.

initial prototypes

However, the problem of feasibility for this project became apparent when I came across the barrier of creating a high fidelity project for the idea.

While I enjoyed exploring the concept with the possible technical features, I realized I had to create a product that was fully able to create my intended interaction/experience. With the amount of time left in project, I decided to shift my concept to become more feasible with the constraints and expectations given.

Concept Development 02

Despite deciding to change my concept, I wanted to still explore the focus space of touch and sound, specifically in relation to background noise. Moving forward, I had a new set of considerations and goals:

  • How can I heighten an individual’s awareness of natural background noise?
  • How can I create or enhance the feeling of touch to make the individual feel more immersed by the outdoor noises?

The white noise of trees rustling and air moving is oftentimes unnoticed, so I set a new goal of altering a user’s perception by raising awareness of the movement and sounds of nature.

In class, to test out the feasibility of a wearable device, I started out by creating a headphone shape with a basic funnel/cone to see what shapes might best support better audio.

initial in-class prototypes

The goal was to create a wearable that stimulates the sound of outside movement while also representing this movement through touch. After designing a general shape for the wearable, I could test out different types of materials that could be used for the tactile aspect of my headset.

materials to experiment with

While each of these materials created a sound that was similar to background noise, I focused on designing a form that could support the movement of these materials with the push of the wind.

headset interaction sketches

By creating a tingling sensation in the user’s ear, they would be able to feel the movement of the environment and become more in-touch with their surroundings.

Material Exploration

When I started experimenting with the materials, I created a flat cone shape to test out what items I could use to imitate outdoor sounds. Although I originally planned to use the beads method, I realized that the lighter scrapes of tracing paper (bottom right) created the most realistic sound effects.

curled paper & string with beads
tracing paper & fan experiment

While I was prototyping, I quickly realized that the cone shape was not suitable for properly distributing air, and the studio fan was not an appropriate measure of wind force when compared to the outdoors.

Moving forward, I wanted to try a different shape that would better distribute wind and activate stronger movement from the inside papers.

Refining the Form

testing out geometric foam core shape for materials

Using one of the other designs from my sketches, I created a different prototype with cut foam core to have air flow through the wearable better.

beads & paper fan experiment

Although the beads still didn’t clink together in the way I had imagined, with the new form, the tracing papers created the enhanced rustling sound and tingling physical sensation I was aiming to recreate.

Finalizing the Design

For the final headset design, I switched to using white materials to better match the tracing paper and fit the light nature of the environment.

headset process pictures

The geometric headset cuff allowed for a sturdy support of tracing papers that could folded so that the friction rustles against each other with wind. This would help stimulate the paper sounds and creating more touch-points to the user’s ear.

final headset model

After creating the final model for the headset, I added a second strap to the back of the wearable for better support. I made sure to keep the top head strap wide to leave a gap for the papers so they could touch the user without getting flattened out.

Video Demonstration

In reflection, creating a wearable that performed the intended interactions was far more rewarding and fun than only working conceptually. By switching project directions, I was able to consider more ways I could design a device and how materiality could be used to my advantage.

The problem-solving aspect of creating a working device allowed me to think more deeply about how I could influence a person’s senses in creative ways. Working with different shapes and testing out ideas that would achieve my goals helped me better understand how perception can be altered through design.