Mango Labs is a playful exploration into how a real sense of touch might be brought into Virtual Reality experiences. The project was designed from the perspective of an eccentric science lab, who’s goal is to liberate our fingers from prisons of touchscreens. Designing within a fiction allowed us to explore the topic from a critical, yet approachable perspective. My role in the project included coding and creating the Unity environment, prototyping the experiences, and making the video.
What would it be like to touch an app?
Three apps were ‘Haptified’ and made into ‘Happlications’. The aim being to identify and exaggerate the app’s core digital interaction into a physical experience. Exaggerating the experiences meant that they weren’t always perceived as being succesful, but we found that it generated novel discussions about the physicality of apps. In this way our ‘test subjects’ could explore the topic as well.
The focus was to create a caricature of the iconic Tinder ‘swipe’. As your hand reaches out to swipe left or right on the digital-person’s head, your finger tips are welcomed by the fleshy feeling of face-shaped piece of mango. Interestingly, participants quickly acclimatised to this weird sensation.
The endless scrolling of Instagram is translated into a an imposing column that looms above you. With the use of a crank, the otherwise mindless experience becomes one that is both intriguing yet exhausting. The physicality of the experience is enforced by physical and auditory sensation of the clicking crank.
The experience of changing weather was translated into an atmospheric sensation on the back of the hand. Three unique environments can be established by passively warming, cooling or misting the space around the hand. We found that participants had a hard time putting this sensation into words.
The process of using VR as a blindfold
Rather than severing ties with ‘conventional’ reality, we were inspired by using the virtual environment to re-contextualise physical experiences. Prototyping could be done very quickly, as there was no need for visual fidelity, only for feeling to be convincing. For example, when a participant scrolled through Instagram, rather than complicating the crank with electronics, we just eyeballed it with the directional keys on a keyboard.
My biggest learning: The potential of role-play
Throughout our final exhibition we lived into the role of being scientists from Mango Labs. This included addressing the visitors as test subjects, writing a manifesto, and wearing lab coats. I was fascinated by how incorporating elements of role-play meant that participants were much quicker to drop their guard and to engage with the experience from a more playful and curious perspective. It proved to play a big role in my thesis project at CIID: The Agency Agency.