Sensus; breathing as future communication


Interaction design, Speculative design,  Non-verbal communication, Embodied communication,

In today's situation, the average screen time for children between
5-16 years old is 5 hours and 54minutes. This has caused social isolation, which can have lifelong consequences on the brain, relationships, and the ability to make sense of the world. According to studies, spending an excessive amount of time on smartphones and tablet devices could have a detrimental effect on the mental wellbeing of children as young as two. The research found that just one hour of screen time can lead to children and adolescents experiencing decreased curiosity and lower emotional stability. 


In activity-centered design, the focuses is on how a system produces an outcome as a result of activity, instead of only focusing on the user in an activity. This project was executed as a group work where we took an activity-centered approach, where we used our bodies to experiment and explore impersonal and interpersonal communication using human touch and technology. 

    The goal was to explore the physicality of breathing, translate it to a set of emotions and simulating it  by using sensors and actuators.

The wearable vest, Sensus, was created to enhance inter-human somatic communication through breathing and is not a product for today, but could be for the future. The vest interprets other peoples breathing into emotions and gives a physical response to the user by constricting, expanding, vibrating, pulsating, or changing temperature. The purpose of Sensus is to highlight the issues of today by making a critical design that provokes an audience to think about what they do not want for the future.

Design process

To consider the future, this project set out to critique current norms and technology of modern society by using a speculative design process to explore possible futures or alternative presents of breathing as a form of non-verbal communication. By reflecting on current socio-technological trends that have led to children not being able to make sense of the world, this project projects an alternative future set in 2040, when today's 10 years old will be 30 years old.
     Imagine a world where that generation has forgotten how to express and interpret/understand other people's emotions. They can no longer pick up the small cues that could signal an emotional state of insecurity, fear, joy, or stress and the reason being that the screen-world we live in today, where life is experienced through screens and emotions is expressed in emojis, have shaped this generation's understanding of the world.


While we analyze our knowledge, experience and values ​​shaped from our past and look at our present, we try to imagine the probable, plausable, possible and impossible future.

01 Inspiration

When working in a Speculative Design process, one takes inspiration from Sci-Fi movies and books, this can help to remove one's commercial constraints from the creative process which allows for hypothetical possibilities. By following this approach, the project aimed to make the audience think about what they want or what they dont want for their future selves.
In this project, inspiration came from the HBO series `Years and Years´, where a teenager is hiding her emotions behind a virtual filter. This scene created the perfect "what if" scenario;

`What if´ people could no longer express and interpret/understand their own and/or other people's emotions. 

02 Embodied sketching

Some of the attributes that a sketch must have are quick, timely, inexpensive, disposable, plentiful, suggest and they should explore rather than confirm. Embodied sketching is used in early stages to generate ideas, it is a way of understanding and designing bodily experiences. It is intended to

     - Support ideation rather than evaluation,
     - Support the integration of somatic experiences early in                the design process, before creating a prototype and,
     - Inspire creativity supported by play and playfulness.

By applying the method of embodied sketching early in the design process, it enabled us as a group, to explore inter-human somatic communication by using breathing as a material, feeding  into ideation and conceptualisation.

The goal of the performative workshops was to investigate designing interactions that are technology-supported and not artifact-focused, to not steal the user’s attention of the perceived reality but rather enhance the somatic experience.

03 Digital sketching

Somaesthetics is a combination of the two words soma- our subjective self, body, emotion and thinking and aesthetic- our perceptual appreciation of the world. This design project took inspiration from somesthetic concerning the technique of focusing on one’s somatic awareness when breathing. Somatic awareness is not only about body awareness, as in muscles or organs but it also acknowledges that there is no separation between body and mind.

     To support somatic awareness, a technology-supported approach was taken where the focus was on designing an activity instead of technology. To obtain a technology-supported approach the technology is designed as one part of the design goal and the activity, in this case, breathing is supported by the technology. Through digital sketching, where we experiment and sketch by using digital components, we made design choices based on the somatic experiences of technological sensors and actuators.

04 Prototyping

A prototype is a representation of a design idea and can have different purposes depending of what the goal is to communicate . The Look & Feel prototypes goal is to transmit haptic and visual experiences, the role prototypes goal is to communicate the concepts functionality in the user’s situation, while the implementation prototype demonstrates the technical feasibility. When prototyping, one finds techiques and material to simulate the concepts in the best way possible. In this project a Look & Feel prototype was made.

04 Final Prototype

The final Look & Feel prototype of the wearable device Sensus. The wearable device enhances inter-human somatic communication through breathing by using sensors and actuators, so to express and interpret/understand their own and/or other people's emotions. 

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