The concept designer discusses how augmented reality has the potential to create new forms of emotive interaction.
What is the premise of your design proposal Digital Ethology?
My research stems from a fascination with the way we behave online, how we text and share images instead of talking to each other, and how this is gradually destroying our ability to communicate verbally. First, I questioned whether in the future virtual environments will become our reality. Are we going to stay at home wearing virtual glasses and just go to virtual work, have our virtual pet and a virtual partner and create this new world?
In the future verbal communication will be partially replaced by more intuitive, emotive modes of interaction
To me, augmented reality (AR) is a much more positive way of blending virtual and physical reality. In the project I speculate about new modes of non-verbal communication in that potential near future scenario. Based on how we communicate today, I believe that in the future verbal communication will be partially replaced by more intuitive, emotive modes of interaction.
I imagine that our state of mind and emotions could be projected through expressive AR characters or outfits that suggest how we should be approached and what type of interaction we are interested in.
How do you imagine these future non-verbal modes of communication?
The visual language of the augmented reality projections draws on ethology, the science of animal behaviour, to create intuitive ways to express emotions, such as a virtual outfit representing insecurity and anxiety mimicking the appearance of puffed up cat fur. I think it’s a powerful combination to use this new technology to build and express a language inspired by these natural, primal behaviour patterns that we understand instinctively.
I also believe that using this type of platform would enable us to create a new sense or a new type of sensitivity and visual understanding that could enable us to read the emotional meaning of different projections.
And, of course, we will try to use AR projections to alter the way people perceive us in the same way we do on social media today, where we represent ourselves in a certain way and curate how other people see us. You can imagine that same behaviour translated into our augmented reality identities. One of the virtual characters you can take on, for example, represents feeling insecure, and as you approach, it suddenly puffs up and creates armour in a show of confidence. In that sense, AR would enable us to stretch our identity even further.
Would the AR projections dictate certain social behaviour?
Absolutely. One of the character’s outfits, for example, expresses being offline or not wanting interaction. I think that in the future we will learn to protect our privacy and attention. Imagine if everyone communicated through augmented reality characters – it would be nice and would invite interaction, but it would also be overwhelming. That’s why one of the functionalities I imagined is to have an outfit that creates a filter for interactions. You could view things around you as less saturated, for example, and project a kind of protective cocoon that signifies that you don’t want to be approached.
What do you imagine the potential applications to be?
Primarily, it would be a way of translating how we communicate through social media platforms into a more emotive interaction. These projections would be visual interpretations of the way we share joy and express friendship on social media channels, but also of the way we express sympathy or outrage on issues that make us angry.
We already use location-based platforms such as Tinder and Grindr to find partners, and AR could be a way to create a visual code that signals immediately that a person is a match for you.
Another application would be dating, and one of my proposals is about a couple that are interested in each other. We already use location-based platforms such as Tinder and Grindr to find partners, and AR could be a way to create a visual code that signals immediately that a person is a match for you. I think this will also become increasingly appealing as our sexual identities become more fluid because it will enable us to avoid being boxed in to one platform or another.
The visual interaction of the flirting couple is inspired by the ostrich dance, which is aimed at attracting the potential partner’s attention. Both users project vibrant visuals and when they come closer, the colours and patterns of the projections merge.
Who will offer the AR projections?
I imagine that we will access them through a variety of apps, each offering a different type of functionality. One company could offer an app that creates projections that represent exactly how you feel at a given moment and communicate your mood dynamically. Another brand could create an app that enables you to project a positive representation, such as confidence or approachability when you are going to a business meeting.