For over a decade, I have been intrigued, captivated and engulfed in the idea of using the sense of touch to design man-machine interfaces. My formal training in Industrial Design gave me a variety of skills and tools to develop functional, usable and aesthetically pleasing products or systems. However, when once confronted with the touch modality during a particular project, my design knowledge and tools felt very deficient, or simply inadequate. Why could I comfortably design in the visual universe after just a few years of training, but could not in the haptic realm? Was it me, my tools, my education or the design tradition that made me seemingly inept at designing haptics? Why did I not have a design base for leveraging our touch sense and its rich capabilities?

The work presented in this thesis is the final installment of five years of research and doctoral studies at the Umeå Institute of Design in northern Sweden trying to answer these important questions. The research activities have been carried out in an industrial design school using a designerly approach. Such contextual information is helpful to frame the nature of the work; its direction, perspective, purpose, and contribution.

My work investigates a nascent field at the confluence of the Interaction Design and Haptics domains. Although the work is strongly tied to haptics and naturally builds on a myriad of other disciplines like neuroscience, psychology and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), just to name a few, it is ultimately framed as a research endeavor in the field of Interaction Design. It is the discipline that I am most familiar with, and the one that has been nurturing my activities for the past decade.

What is Interaction Design exactly? The Interaction Design Association (IxDA) states the following (IxDA, 2012):

Interaction Design (IxD) defines the structure and behavior of interactive systems. Interaction Designers strive to create meaningful relationships between people and the products and services that they use, from computers to mobile devices to appliances and beyond.

Bill Verplank offers a broader and more elegant definition, in my view (Verplank, 2000).

Interaction Design is design for human use. It involves answering three questions:

How do you do?
What sort of ways do you affect the world:
poke it, manipulate it, sit on it?

How do you feel?
What do you sense of the world and what are the
sensory qualities that shape media?

How do you know?
What are the ways that you learn and plan
(or perhaps, how we want you to think)?

Due to its multidisciplinary nature, there are many more perspectives and definitions of what constitutes interaction design. Often the word digital is tied to interaction design, but in my view digital is just a subset of technologies for and through which we ought to interact and design. Consequently, many argue that interaction design is the natural evolution of industrial design (Bürdek, 2005, p. 403): as tools and materials of the 21st century are invariably becoming digital or computationally-enabled, so should our ensuing design practice and skills. For the remainder of this thesis, I will adopt Verkplank’s rendition of interaction design. Its specificity around sensing, knowing and learning, and affecting the world resonates with my own views, my professional experience, and the nature of this research work. The label “for human use” puts forward a human and humane perspective of design, in the same way Henry Dreyfus proposed in his book Designing for People (Dreyfuss, 2003).


This thesis investigates how designers venture into haptics, and how they can ultimately refine their design repertoire of haptic interfaces. The thesis is divided into 3 parts: Foundations, Activities, and A Way Forward.

Part 1: Foundations starts with a contextualization and methodological presentation in chapter 1.1, and then introduces key considerations and particularities of the human haptic sense in chapter 1.2. The following chapter 1.3 explores design expertise, and more precisely how design representations, activities of prototyping and sketching support design knowledge development. Chapter 1.3 also includes with a review and discussion of the terms prototypes, models, sketches, prototypes and mock-ups to fully expose the bases underpinning much of this work.

Part 2: Activities reveals my empirical research inquiries, and the activities I have undertaken at the confluence of design and haptics. The discussion starts by exposing a general timeline of my activities, and some of my general research questions and hypotheses. The details and outcomes of a multimodal study are then presented in chapter 2.1. Chapter 2.2 and chapter 2.3 put forward research through design activities realized in collaboration with Microsoft Research, first involving the examination of making and sketching in hardware for haptic knowledge generation, and second with the exploration of haptic feedback concepts for Kinect (or similar gestural interaction systems). Chapter 2.4 summarizes activities and insights from a series of workshops I conducted with students in the haptic design space.

Part 3: A Way Forward contains a thorough discussion of the nascent design space of haptic interaction design. It examines the current state of affairs of this new field before exposing the crucial research contributions of my work. More specifically, chapter 3.1 investigates the current state of haptic interaction design using four assessment points: interest and motivation towards this new field; the availability of materials; the availability of tools; and finally, skills and knowledge to support haptic interaction. Chapter 3.2 addresses the all-important contributions of my work. The contributions are divided into three categories: knowledge contributions, methodological contributions, and impact my work has had or is expected to have on research and practice. Chapter 3.3 titled Perspectives involves framing the work of this thesis in today’s design and haptic worlds. It specifically discusses what makes haptic interaction design different than haptic research, how haptic interaction design relates to the contemporary design research agenda, and ultimately why the work of this thesis is relevant to the greater design realm.