Beyond simply reinforcing temporal and spatial cues in the audio and/or visual realms of digital experience, haptics or touch feedback is approaching the point of being a field of content in its own right. As the sense of touch is integrated more and more into mainstream digital interfacing, new possibilities emerge for multimodal complexity and subtlety in design. With careful attention paid to proprioception –or the perception of body-in-space– so as not to disrupt the integrity or ‘believability’ of the experience, degrees of immersion can be crafted.
We situate our work on a sliding scale between virtual reality (total immersion in the digital experience), augmented reality (partial immersion in the digital experience) and actual reality (total or partial immersion in non-digital content). The point of touch is very often the point of ‘make or break’ in an experience – where, too often, this is the point at which the user is reminded of being ‘out’ of the experience. It should, rather, offer the opportunity for component elements to reinforce and engage with one another.
While it is of vital importance that the resolution of sound (content and design) catch up to what is being achieved in the visual realm, it is also just as necessary that higher resolutions of touch feedback and recognition be adopted if those degrees of immersion are to be achieved.
The addition of touch feedback to digital interfacing allows for vast improvements in the level of control a user can experience, providing key feedback for both discrete and fluid interactions. Moreover, it allows for the development of a much finer fine-motor control and hand-eye-ear co-ordination which can then, in turn, be incorporated back into the design of the work.
Even devices as deceptively simple in touch capability as touch-screen tablets, touch-as-content can and should be developed far beyond current guidelines for ‘ease of use’. What if a certain amount of carefully constructed resistance can actually shape a much more semantically rich experience? What if resistance can train better facility and, in turn, allow greater content? In much the same way that early levels in many gaming platforms ‘teach’ the user what range of controls are possible – so too, can this strategy be adopted in other contexts. Increasing the resolution of the touch-area as well as injecting micro-timing to touch events, offers the possibility of literally unflattening the 2D surface.