Writing Sample: Defining Haptic User Experience

I wrote this article to spotlight Games Institute research on our website. Click for the original link.

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Haptics are becoming a staple for high-end technologies (ex. iPhones, the Google Pixel, and Nintendo Switch), as they enhance user experiences by incorporating multisensory feedback, like touch-tones, movements, or vibrations. Despite this, developers currently lack a framework for understanding how to best incorporate and improve them.

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) researchers at the Games Institute have published a novel model of haptic user experience (the HX model) to allow developers to evaluate and refine haptic designs.

Lead author Erin Kim explains that established user experience models are not specific enough for haptic developers: “a haptic experience is highly dependent on the interplay between physical feedback and other components of a system, as well as other senses and contextual factors”.

Erin Kim and Prof. Oliver Schneider, director of the Haptic Computing Lab and faculty member of the Games Institute, conducted a literature review to generate a novel definition of haptic user experiences, which they now define as:

“A distinct set of quality criteria combining usability requirements and experiential dimensions that are the most important considerations for people interacting with haptic technology”.

They ran two participant studies, one with haptic novices and one with expert hapticians (makers of haptics), to determine the basis for evaluative instruments, such as checklists, heuristics, or questionnaires for haptic designers to use.

Eight people with no experience designing haptics, the “haptic novices”, participated in a workshop where they played games on Nintendo Switch (like Super Mario Odyssey), and brainstormed what elements of haptics make user experiences novel, fun, and engaging.

The authors used that list to conduct interviews with six haptic researchers to see if it was representative of the way experts evaluate haptic designs. The conclusion of both studies produced a model articulating the key elements constituting the user experience of haptic interactions.

“We propose two main categories: usability requirements, which are important so that people can interact with the technology, and experiential factors, which are what make it feel good,” says Oliver Schneider.

Both categories contain several elements, representing unique feature that contribute to HX. “Our big finding is that there are 5 main ways that haptics can feel good, and they might not all be important for every application,” says Schneider.

The HX Model can now serve as a theoretical basis from which an evaluation tool can be created. Ultimately, this novel HX model will help haptic designers and researchers accelerate haptic technology and produce broad positive impact on the way users interact with immersive devices.

The study, “Defining Haptic Experience: Foundations for Understanding, Communicating, and Evaluating HX”, is published in the proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems and received an Honourable Mention Award.

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