Skateboards, golf clubs and other bodily engaging artifacts

This quick varial observed in Geneva few years ago is one of these pictures that I keep using to show how skateboard practice is interesting in the context of tangible artifacts. As a matter of fact, my argumentation about it is more based on personal intuition (and gut feelings) than serious observations. Which is why I was intrigued by this academic article I ran across recently. In Bodies, Boards, Clubs and Bugs: A study of bodily engaging artifacts, Jakob Tholander and Carolina Johansson adopt a rather interesting perspective about non-digital artifacts. They examine how the examination of golfers, skateboarders and body buggers can be relevant for design purposes. Their approach shed some light on the "qualities for design of interaction that allow for full body experiences, and engagement of a rich array of our senses and bodily capabilities for being-in and moving-in the world." The authors also compare their observations and results from interviews to a new interactive device designed for movement and bodily engagement (called the BodyBug).

Based on different artifact descriptions and experiences, the articles describes various lessons drawn from their observation and certain design implications:

"key qualities for design of interactive artifacts that connect body and world in an intriguing way:

  • make it necessary to engage with the physical environment
  • avoid perceptive modalities (in our case vision) that remove attention from body and environment
  • the response should not be discrete but open up for individual experience and interpretation
  • the artifact should allow users to continuously be socially aware."

This challenges designers of experience-oriented artifacts for body and movement to view the artifact as a medium for engaging in movement based activities, while not letting it become the sole and primary focus of the movement. This would allow the “outcome” of the activity not to be determined by the output of the system, but to be determined by the experience of the user.

Among the three examples, it's the description about skateboarders that I found the most intriguing with comments such as "The skateboard was rarely a primary element of what they talked about; instead focus was on the embodied experience or "Skateboarders talked about “surfaces” such as slopes or rails and how they were used to carry out tricks".

Why do I blog this? sorting different papers for my class about user research and interaction design. This one is relevant as it shows how the study of non-digital activities can inform the design of tangible artifacts.

In addition, this paper is relevant to my current research because it moves from observing humans to the analysis of non-humans (objects). There would be a lot to draw from analyzing both skateboards and skateboard places (street furnitures, bowl, etc.).