Tension-and-Release: A Design Principle for Dynamic Materials
Amy Winters, Simone de Waart, Miguel Bruns


The physical world (our bodies and materiality) enables increasingly complex interactions between humans and systems. While the material-turn in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) allows dynamic materials to exhibit temporal (change-in-time) behaviours, current research concentrates on the expressive properties of the artefact and overlooks the nuanced human-system interplay. A conceptual design language is now needed for designers to work with these distinctive reciprocal qualities. Tension-and-release is a universal principle established in art forms such as theatre, dance, and music, which derive from our immediate, multisensory understanding of the world. In this paper, we aim to extract and apply this principle to the design of interactive systems through the lens of aesthetic experience. We demonstrate our design theory through practical case studies involving the design of interactive material experience and examine how tension-and-release interactions are perceived and observed on three levels: Physical, Perceptual-Motor, and Psychological. These observations further identify three concepts within tension-and-release that can guide designers towards implementing this principle into their practice: timing mechanisms, catharsis, and conflict & resolution.

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