Posted in: Advertising, Designing Haptics


We live in an age where screens are commonplace; our cars, our watches and even our grocery store checkouts have screens. But as humans, our basic nature still makes us crave physical experiences that digital interactions often don’t provide. In the past couple of months, our team has been working on our submission for SXSW 2016. (Look for my submission on “Feel it to Believe it – Everything needs Haptics”SXSW 2016). Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be able to speak at SXSW on ways designers can implement touch in the content they create. In the short months since then, there has been much more development and awareness on what haptic technology can add to the experience.


The goal of most digital content—brand experiences, entertainment, ads andapps—is to create an immersive, emotional and meaningful experience; but the content is trapped behind glass. Many consider the manipulation of content through the glass as “direct interaction,” but that is not true, since touch is not engaged.

In the case of touchscreens, we feel sensations on flat, smooth surfaces, and, in the case of gesture interfaces, we feel nothing but empty space. Tactile design is an emerging design practice, enabled (finally!) since now most content can be enhanced by tactile feedback. When tactile design is applied to the experiences delivered to phones and tablets, we can create a more immersive, physical and emotional experience than before.

Mobile content creators must consider the implementation of touch in their design. If they choose not to include, it should be considered a design choice and needs to be part of the conversation.

Mobile content is often produced with high production value. It looks and sounds great on a high fidelity playback environment. But, the consumer is likely to be viewing promotional content while waiting in line, sitting on a train or distracted by their environment; on a four-inch screen, with poor audio. So how can your content still be immersive? The use of tactile design engages your body and thus your attention. In this way, tactile design fits well with the content creator’s intent: it reaches people wherever they are.

Tactile Designs is like any other user experience design discipline. There are basic design rules that you need to understand as you’re working with the medium. In the spirit of encouraging everyone to think about touch in the experience they are creating, whether it is video content, gaming content or a device user interface, here are my design rules for the sense of touch (the same ones I shared at SXSW 2015).

The five rules to good tactile design
1. Understand the design space. Learn what tactile design is capable of, and how to apply it. This is a new field for most designers, so there’s an exploratory step that needs to be taken before it can be effectively integrated into the production process.
2. Follow the action. Your content is full of motion and action. What are the “tactile moments” in your brand? For example, Xiaomi partnered with Coca Cola to make a Coke theme for its mobile phone. The lock screen looks like a soda can top, and consumers unlock their phones by opening the can. That iconic feeling of opening a Coke can was re-created with tactile and sound design. Other brands have other iconic tactile moments. What’s yours?
3. Create an illusion. When you combine tactile with audio and visual, you can make your experience utterly convincing. One example is a demo where you see a ball rolling around on the screen, and you feel it “bounce” against the sides of the screen. The tactile bounce effects make this illusion very strong, and instead of seeing a picture of a ball rolling around, you begin to believe there might actually be a ball in the phone. When you take the visual away by turning off the screen, you still believe the ball is in there just because you feel it. Once you build an illusion with tactile design, the experience is more sticky and memorable than it would be without.
4. Build real connections between people and between your brand and your customers. Our goal is often to create real, emotional bonds. We talk all the time about how we want our brands to be emotional, social and meaningful. The tactile channel is the most direct way to achieve this because it literally touches people, moves people.

It’s important to note that good design is paramount to creating a touch experience. People have a lot invested in touch – it represents their emotions and expressions and can have a heavy impact on their experience.

Digital devices can now give us the physical experiences we crave. Thinking about what this means for the future, and you’re brought to an interesting conclusion: because these physical experiences are made with software, they’re not limited to just simulations of familiar physical experiences. Instead, they’re only limited by the imaginations of creatives. What will virtual physical experiences be like when they have no basis in material reality?

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