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On 10, Jan 2012 | In | By phil

Interaction Design & Animism

In Spring 2011, the New Ecology of Things course in the Media Design Program had the theme of animism, and explored how interaction design can utilize the natural tendency to imagine that inanimate objects and spaces have motivation, intention and/or consciousness.  I encouraged my students to design the project behaviors to indicate animism through kinetic expression. They created working, interactive projects with rich materiality, sensors, motors, and light.

The projects were quite evocative, and came at animism from many different directions. Some seemed primarily reactive to interactions, others seemed to be doing their own thing, and yet others were curious in a shy kind of way. A common theme among the projects was the use of fictional back-stories, some quite elaborate, which gave the projects a more full character, suspension of disbelief, and space for imagination.

Reflections on the project, as well as links to details and videos of the interactions below. As a followup to this project, this summer I’ll be leading further research on Animism in a project funded by the Santa Monica based Nokia Research group headed by Sean White.

Through discussion and critique, the class found patterns in these speculative projects that seemed to make the animism work well, summarized in this table.

Appearance of inner life

  • exhibits caution, hesitation and a sense of self-preservation
  • has confidence to act
  • has variable behavior, which indicates different internal states and intentions
  • nervousness
  • exhibits surprise with a flinch or other behavior, generates the surprising or unexpected
  • seems needy
  • creates intimacy, warmth, surprise, etc.
  • exhibits personality
  • combination of synchronicity and divergence
  • some doubt, hesitation, or uncertainty in behavior
Lifelike behavioral characteristics that were succesful

  • abstracted facial expressions
  • motion with multiple dimensions, complexity, expressiveness
  • familiar or understandable physics in motion
  • leaving space for user’s imagination to fill in gaps
  • rhythm and/or musicality
  • seeming organization and choreography to actions
  • contrast, juxtaposition & repetition – i.e. the usual design techniques work when applied to behavior
  • seems to have meaning, intention
Creation of a dialog

  • wants attention, responds to attention, gives attention
  • playing roles with user
  • makes an invitation to interaction
  • display of curiosity

  • organic forms seem to help
  • texture and haptics play interesting roles in creating context
  • social and/or group action of multiple objects creates sense of life
  • not to literal or specific to leave room for the user’s imagination
  • fictions around system create more space for “suspension of disbelief” and imagination

Student Project Documentation – Click on links for details and videos

borashin futureparticallab
Bora Shin’s Curious Mailbox – Watches and emotes about your email Dee Kim & Chiao Wei Ho’s Future Particle Lab – Scientific research into live nano particles
link2 mikemanalo
Link Huang’s Velit – Wishing machine and its minions Mike Manalo’s Animism: Material Research – Textures and Architecture
jayne rubina
Jayne Vidheecharoen’s Botanical Autonoma – Human Spirit Interaction (HSI vs. HCI) Rubina Ramchandani’s Stonaloid – Traumatized rocks in recovery
salorara2 josh
Sal Orara’s Tonalis Luminous – A field of tonal, light-sensitive flowers Joshua McVeigh-Schultz’s Mobile interface devices in their natural state
Aarti Vashisht’a Doodler – A companion that reacts to your writing, and gets bored