Viola Tjew-A-Sin

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  • Keywords
    • Affective communication
    • Thermal messaging
    • Wearable
    • Alexithymia
  • Assignment

    Conceptualize a mediated touch interaction incorporating warmth as a meaningful application for a specific context.

  • Involved parties


  • Introduction

    The goal of my graduation project was to design, prototype and explore a conceptual mediated social touch interaction which incorporates warmth in the context of improving affective communication between (mild) alexithymics and their loved ones. Alexithymia is a personality construct which is characterized by the inability to recognize and express emotions in the self.
    The aim of this is to explore the opportunities as well as the limitations of thermal messaging as a modality for affective communication by applying it to this specific use context..


Aside from a literature study on the intrapersonal context of alexithymia, mediated social touch and the use of warmth, a deeper understanding of the interpersonal context was gained through gathering insights from the experiences of target users.


The most notable findings are represented in simple scenarios depicting possible developments of an emotional confrontation between the users. The panels can be read in sequential order, where each panel highlights the conflicting intrapersonal experiences of each of the users in the same moment.
This scenario above covers the main characteristics of a typical emotional confrontation between an alexithymic individual and their partner.


Mediated touch communication model

The Mediated Touch Communication Model, is used to systematically identify and specify all aspects of the interpersonal interaction. The model represents one instance of the interaction, where the sender sends a message with a certain intention that is received and interpreted by the receiver. Because the interaction is bi-directional, users will be sender as well as receiver.

wt-prototype wt-fritz


The prototype consists of a pair of devices with the ability to communicate with each other wirelessly. Each device has a wearable strap containing a heating module, with the batteries and microcontroller in a separate container to prevent the strap from becoming too bulky and heavy.
The purpose of this prototype is to allow participants to try out and explore the possibilities of a thermal messaging device. It is a functional prototype created to allow users to try out the experience of receiving a thermal expression that has been sent remotely.


User testing

In order to evaluate the experience of using thermal expression as a modality for affective communication in romantic relationships, a role-play (acting out an imaginary scenario as themselves) based test was performed with participants.
The results from the user test were analyzed and clustered according to theme.

wt-ideasketch wt-ideasketch2

form exploration

While it is not the main focus, the representation of this interaction design in the shape of a conceptual product helps in telling the story of a thermal messaging device in this context. Insofar, a basic suggestion is made for the physical design of the device.
The physical design space has been explored through a combination of sketching and the creation of simple mock-ups.


Conceptual device

The concept consists of two bracelets that are connected to each other wirelessly. The design of the bracelet clearly indicates the touch-sensitive part of the object. When this part is touched, the inside of the other bracelet warms up. With a heating element that is incorporated into the strap itself, warmth can be generated on the inside surface of the armband.
These bracelets are meant to offer a way for members of the romantic couple to feel emotionally connected by using the bracelets to express affection to one another. The underlying thought is that the inherently intimate and positive character of a thermal expression gives off a simple and clear signal that can’t be interpreted wrongly.