Tangible Controls

20 Oct 2013

Seamlessness is Beauty

                            **This post has been updated**

The first weeks of Physical Computing have expanded my vocabulary in describing and articulating the physical interfaces I experience and want to create. Though the project I will complete in the next two weeks will be an early version of my final, I am aiming for beauty. Because seamlessness is beauty.

example photo taken to show sister my new hairstyle NOT for a dating site

Rereading Graham Pullin's essay "Design Meets Disability," I focused on the "case-study" on eyeglasses; the device's transition from being a marker of "social humiliation" (page 16) and disability to a fashion accessory. I am nearsighted, born nearsighted. Memories of elementary school are punctuated with anxiety and frustration.


I was usually taller than the other girls in class so, I was repeatedly placed at the back of the classroom despite not being able to see what was written on the blackboard. I got glasses when I was thirteen ONLY after my mother read a tabloid article that children with bad eyesight don't do well in school and she wanted me to get into Yale.



She waited until I was a preteen because she believed eyeglasses were ugly. To be fair, many of them were when she was young and even when my older sister needed prescription lenses in the seventies. But by the mid-nineties, more moderately-priced frames were becoming prettier. Now, the consumer with a midrange budget can find a fashionable pair quite easily.

example these were expensive though

I preface with all of this because I believe the stylishness of eyeglasses has been critical in the shifts in attitude towards this corrective device. And I believe their stylishness counterintuitively makes them unobtrusive, seamless. When I encounter a person wearing a striking or flattering pair, I am not distracted, but attracted. I don't look past the frame and lenses, I wouldn't be able to. The frame and lenses are a part of the face. Why not celebrate that?

Aiming for concealment, miniaturization, discreetness in design for 'disability' and body implies that certain types of bodies should be hidden, shamed, corrected. And I don't want to design systems that make people feel their bodies are wrong and need to be fixed. The human body is wondrous.

Intimacy is another facet of seamlessness and beauty, and increasingly of technology. The act of dressing, presenting oneself to the world is an intimate one. It is a ritual, thick with histories, loaded with and being dominated by culture. It is declarative. It is about subverting, adopting, changing, shifting, declaring identity. The designers and I include the engineers of Google Glass don't understand that. They didn't design an item of apparel onto which a person can project his/her/their identity. They designed a surveillance device: intrusive, imposing, attempting invisibility.

I do not know into which innovations the tech oligarchs will invest money and marketing, but I truly believe that creators outside of that circle of power have a chance to reclaim space through intimacy. There are and will continue to be a proliferation of surveillance devices mislabeled as 'wearables', developing a relationship with the people the wearer encounters rather than the wearer. My goal at ITP is to explore applications of existing technologies that reach intimacy through seamlessness and beauty.

My project will be a pair of gloves that control video playback on a projection screen. I will complete it in three parts, the first the hardware, the last two stages deal with software.

While my project is influenced by considering the different types of bodies that may encounter my device, I am designing this instance essentially for myself. It is a wearable device made to specifications that best fit my hands and wrists. It will consist of fabric most pleasing to my tastes. This is something I have been struggling with: am I undermining one of the truest goals of this course interaction design by starting at my body?

Below are the links to the blog posts about the project and my progress.

Direct links to posts related to project are below


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