Late one night in a Slack chat, my friends and I unanimously agreed that Spatial Computing needed its own Design Language. We wanted to explore how to design for the user's context, utilize flexible multiple inputs, and improve experiences through physical and digital connections. It was time to create a new design language, so I proposed an initiative to develop Sensory Design. My role was to kickstart this effort and bring everyone along.
Introducing Sensory Design
Traditional screen design relies heavily on cognitive abilities to perform tasks. Sensory Design incorporates more of our body's sensory and spatial cognition. We already utilize proprioception and spatial memory effectively in the physical world. Sensory Design aims to leverage these human abilities in digital experiences as well.
Psychology shows that our senses and cognition are intertwined in perceiving reality. By designing multi-sensory experiences, we can potentially hack perceptions of reality. This is an exciting opportunity but one requiring great responsibility.
Developing a Shared Vision
We bravely jumped into the unknown to figure out a new language for designing experiences engaging our senses. I gathered designers, cognitive scientists, entrepreneurs, and engineers to define this Sensory Design Language. Our shared vision became: "Making our next computing platform not suck."
Defining Our Mission
Our mission was to create frameworks, principles, and design patterns for spatial designers. We looked at existing design languages like Material Design for Android as examples of effective languages tailored to a platform. Our goal was to expand on these to incorporate human and machine senses more fully.
Establishing Ethical Principles
To develop Sensory Design responsibly, we established three core principles:
- Inspiration from positive human-to-human interaction
- Respect for privacy, control, and well-being
- Open and democratized design
Understanding human behavior is key for ethical AI. We brought on cognitive scientists to identify universal behavioral principles and variations across societies, cultures, and individuals.
Product Leader UX Designer Advocate
1 × AI Designer 1 × Cognitive scientist 1 x User researcher 1 x UX designer Many industry experts
Our first study
We decided to start simple and pick little projects to begin understanding how we should be designing for the future. The first project we called the closeness study. The closeness study explored spatial computing's potential to enrich human connections through ethical design. Observing real couples interact in a simulated environment revealed insights on strengthening bonds via trust, agency, and presence. This preliminary research highlighted opportunities for ethical innovation if human wellbeing stays central. This study was guided by the prompt:
How do you design a tool to deepen relationships?
By observing real couples interact in a simulated spatial environment, we gained critical insights on facilitating meaningful bonds:
Trust and privacy are essential foundations. When conversations felt monitored by a third-party, intimacy and vulnerability suffered greatly. Spatial computing tools must provide a strong sense of security, confidentiality and freedom from surveillance to foster openness.
Shared focus builds connection. Couples appreciated exchanging content meaningful to their relationship, but overly addictive or distracting features can fragment joint attention. Designs should aim to sustain a shared context.
User agency and control are vital. Giving people freedom of movement, choice over privacy settings, and influence over their surroundings is key for wellbeing. Experiences that feel overly restrictive or forced will preclude closeness.
Spatial audio enables tangible presence. 3D sound was remarkably powerful in mimicking real acoustics and proximity, making communication more vivid and inclusive. Audio presence can help relationships feel grounded.
The closeness study represents an initial foray into exploring the future of spatial computing through an ethical lens. While much remains unknown, our key insights highlight guiding principles for human-centered innovation:
Trust and Privacy
Designs must provide a sense of security, freedom from surveillance, and confidentiality of users' vulnerabilities. Without trust, intimacy suffers.
Agency and Control
Experiences should empower freedom of choice, movement, and influence over one's surroundings. Restrictive designs preclude closeness.
Tools should aim to sustain joint attention on meaningful content. Overly addictive features can fragment focus.
Presence Through Spatial Audio
3D sound can make communication more vivid, tangible, and inclusive by mimicking real acoustics.
Fundamental Human Needs
Observe and honor social dynamics and needs. Never lose sight of ethics and human benefits over profits.
While spatial computing's capabilities may seem boundless, its real potential lies in elevating our shared humanity. By keeping human relationships and wellbeing at the core, we can steer emerging immersive technologies toward societal good.
This framework provides early guidance for ethical innovation. But fully realizing the promise of spatial computing to enrich human connections remains an ongoing collaborative effort.