Eindhoven University of Technology: Building a tactile future with Miguel Bruns

Our world is increasingly a digital world. This is convenient, but it can also go too far. Industrial Design researcher Miguel Bruns sees an important role for designers to restore the disturbed balance between people and systems. For our Dutch-language podcast series Sound of Science, presenter Lieven Scheire spoke with Bruns about the power of tactile design; from the iPhone’s home button to edible robots and transforming pasta.

In the interview, Bruns, who works in the Future Everyday group at the departement of Industrial Design, mentions the example of smart furniture: chairs or tables that automatically move aside, if you threaten to bump into them. Good news for frail elderly people, of course, but is it also such a good idea for children? Will they still learn how the world works? It proves how important context is to a designer, Bruns says. “Things that work well in one context may not work in another.”

TACTILE DESIGN
Bruns specializes in tactile design. Whereas the focus in product design is often on visual or auditory aspects, other senses, such as touch, can also play an important role, he believes. Think of the vibration of the home button of the iPhone to how your gas and brake pedals provide more counterforce the deeper you press.

Or a thermostat that makes it larger or smaller depending on temperature. Setting it higher takes more effort to set a threshold on energy consumption. Another example is a pen that adapts to the (nervous) clicking of the user: by making the click heavier you become more aware of it – what effect does that have?

FUTURE
But there are more examples, says Bruns. What about edible robots, which can deliver medicines to your body, or flat pasta, which morphs into penne or farfalle as soon as you throw it into boiling water. The possibilities for tactile design are truly endless, especially now that (bio-)chemists are developing more and more new exciting materials.

Bruns trains his students for the future, he says, something that many other design schools often do not. There, visual design for the screen still dominates. “We’re training our students for something that doesn’t exist yet. That means they have to be able to deal with uncertainty.”

To learn more about Miguel Bruns’ research and how he is building a tactile future, listen to his interview with Lieven Scheire here. Or go to your favorite podcast platform and search for ‘Sound of Science’. Subscribe to the channel to be automatically notified of new episodes!

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