THE UX OF SKIN | UX Studio Practices

Yiwei Han (David)
6 min readJan 17, 2021

29/10/20–12/11/20 (2 weeks)

📃Brief: Design a way to expresses the skin/world interface.

🤝Group Members: Binru Liu, Ula Rodakowska, Yin Ziyou(Ines), Yiwei Han(David).

Want to know what it is? Read the article below!

The collision of Ideas — Iteration & Synthesis

First ‘Mix-line’ discussion during my isolation (Courtesy of Ines & David).

In our first meeting, we broadly listed the major functions and features of the skins and categorised them to consider the design ideas within them, although network and device limitations made the whole communication challenging.

The outcome of the first meeting (Courtesy of Ula & Ines).

This is an important process that could determine the future direction of our designs. We look for design opportunities in each other’s ideas and examine the flaws in them and have gone through two major rounds of idea updates.

Round 1 - Rough & Quick Ideation

We produced numerous ideas, of which the following examples are just a few, based on simple online research.

Some rough ideas from Round 1 (Courtesy of Binru, David & Ines).

I came up with the idea of skin moods because the colour of the skin changes depending on the emotion of the person; I also thought of creating a world skin map to sort of ease the problem of skin colour bias based on the different distribution of UV rays on the planet. Ula tried to explore skin touch in terms of human relationships; Binru wanted to improve tattoo gun based on skin topographic difference; Ines found inspiration from the skin of polar bears and birds to make more optimised items for warmth and rain protection.

We kept ideas that have the potential for further research, and we throw out “bad” ideas (for implementation, ethical, or moral reasons). Personally, I believe that there is no real good or bad idea and that all the rough ideas are unconsciously blended and influenced with each other and all have a more or less impact on the final idea.

Individual brainstorming (produced between Round 1 and Round 2). [It was then that I found and focused on the fact that the skin’s amazing piloerection reflex mechanism seemed to have great potential for real-life application]

Round 2 - In-depth Research & Synthesis of Information

We then researched and validated our ideas from four aspects: 1) References; 2) Concepts; 3) Materials; 4) Expected outcome; and produced idea analysis document. We have handpicked three ideas (1. UV light & skin correlation, 2. Banana human — Affective Touch, 3. Piloerection.) and produced physical prototypes and presented them on Thursday, then based on the feedback decide on the next step.

“Piloerection or pilomotor reflex, also called horripilation, consists of involuntary hair erection induced by contraction of arrectores pilorum muscles.” (Binder, Nobutaka and Uwe, 2009).

Final idea analysis document (Made by the group).
Making models (Courtesy of David & Ula).

First Presentation

Presentation of three concepts (Courtesy of Ula & Ines).

The banana hand was a big hit. Many students expressed great appreciation for it, and almost the whole class shook hands with it. All thanks to Ula’s excellent sewing skill. The Piloerection model and its potential for the practical application were also appreciated by some. The concept of UV skin correlation was however not well understood by all.

Some enlightening questions were also raised by Alaistair and the class:

  1. “Would it be better to present on a larger scale?”
  2. “What if we made them even weirder and crazier?”
  3. “How can the three different concepts be traded off or combined?”
Funny Test (Courtesy of Ula).

Combination of Hand & Arm

Based on feedback, we naturally agreed to combine Piloerection (which occurs mainly in the arms) with banana skin (which manifest mainly in the hands). Some debate about the scale, since there was not enough time to make a “banana man”, we enriched the “banana hand” experience. We finally agreed to a life-size hand & arm and conceived a plot to link the two concepts:

First, the audience stimulates or hurts the banana hand, e.g. by cutting off each fingertip, then piloerection reflex suddenly happens, while some pre-prepared surprise (Blood, candy, bubbles, etc.) will flow from each finger to create weirdness.

Left: Rough but clear hand-drawn plan (Made by Group); Right: The two components of the final prototype (Courtesy of David & Ula).

We pointed out the materials and tools we would need and the division of tasks. We then moved quickly to prototype and test. Many thanks to the whole group for their patience in making the physical models, and to Ula for her original masterpiece at home.

Making and testing process (Edited by Ines).

Cut and Boom — Final Presentation

Piloerection Reflex Demonstration (Courtesy of Alaistair).
Final presentation process (Courtesy of Alaistair & Sue).

“It was amazing.”

The class like the idea of combining banana hand with piloerection arm, the complete process was full of curiosity, weirdness, surprise and fun. Alaistair thought it was a successful project and explored ways that we can experience skin, despite some theatricality. He also questioned to inspire development:

  1. “Considering the material aspects, how do they behave in the notion of time, like decay, or stop?”
  2. “To the next stage, how does it live in the world, how do we transmit this weirdness to the street, or to the shops?”
The ideal result (Courtesy of David)

Reflection

About the skin, I wondered why such an amazing and ingenious warning system as the “Piloerection reflex” is not widely applied in people’s lives. Since all alarms are mainly sound-based, is there a value and future scenarios for visual or tactile-based warnings?

I learnt a lot from my team members, such as Ula’s “Just do it” spirit and passion for hands-on work, Ines’ rigorous attitude and strict requirements for theoretical support, and Binru’s preference of practicality and realistic factors. Each of us has unique concerns and strengths, so how to optimise the whole collaboration based on these?

One of the key points of this project came at when I started to think about the hairs on my arms. It reminded me that my last project was also inspired by looking. These coincidences, intentional or not, made me realise the importance of observation in design as a direct and effective way of finding opportunities in ourselves and in our surroundings.

Timeline of UX of Skin

📚References:

  1. Benedek, M. and Kaernbach, C. (2011). Physiological correlates and emotional specificity of human piloerection. Biological Psychology, [online] 86(3), pp.320–329. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301051111000093 [Accessed 17 Jan. 2021].
  2. Binder, M.D., Nobutaka, H. and Uwe, W. (2009). Piloerection or Pilomotor Reflex. Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, [online] pp.3164–3164. Available at: https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-3-540-29678-2_4591 [Accessed 17 Jan. 2021].
  3. Chaplin, G., Jablonski, N.G., Sussman, R.W. and Kelley, E.A. (2013). The Role of Piloerection in Primate Thermoregulation. Folia Primatologica, 85(1), pp.1–17.
  4. Cirino, E. (2018). Goosebumps on Skin: When You’re Not Cold and More. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/goosebumps-on-skin [Accessed 17 Jan. 2021].
  5. London, E. (2020). The Importance of Skin Touching in a Relationship. [online] Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/sexography/the-importance-of-skin-touching-in-a-relationship-2e7c5269d481 [Accessed 17 Jan. 2021].

🎬Post-credits scene

Piloerection reflex model, an embarrassing failure (Courtesy of Sue).

[Theatricality]: The reason why the “arm” and “hand” did not work together during the presentation was that Ula was so involved in the demonstration that she accidentally waved her arm and our ‘arm’ prototype fell apart, Binru and David had to reassemble it on site.🤣But that’s okay, just be careful next time.

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Yiwei Han (David)

MA User Experience Design - University of the Arts London