Tactile Grounds

Dates: September 2017
Team: Scott Dombkowski
Work Type: Academic

Tactile Grounds is an object designed for the "active seeing" of the ground, your movement, and their interplay.

Tactile Grounds Concept Video


With this project, I hoped to explore:

  • How often individuals pay attention to the ground and their movement?
  • How much of an understanding do individuals have on the relationship between the ground and their movement?
  • Do individuals only pay attention to the ground and their movement in non-normal circumstances (rainstorm, a sidewalk with potholes, an intersection, etc...)?

Tactile Grounds consists of a sole cavity for “seeing” the materiality of the ground and an elevated sole pad for "seeing" the topology of the ground. The cavity and elevated pad are not only meant to allow you to explore the materiality and topology of the ground, but also the speed, stability, and confidence of your movement, and the interplay between the ground and your movement. It allows you to notice, appreciate, connect, and question. Hopefully, leading to an increased awareness of both the ground and your movement.

Final Tactile Grounds Prototype

Final Tactile Grounds Prototype

This increased awareness leads to questions and insights like:

  • Am I walking efficiently? Are there specific aspects of my movement that could be more efficient?
  • A greater appreciation for the ground and shoes.
  • Are there shoes better suited to my movement?
  • Why is there so much human altered ground? Do we need all this concrete? What would we use if concrete was never developed?
  • What do different surfaces mean and what do they say about us? Can the perception of a place be determined by the ground?

In some sense, the project was flawed from the onset in that it was extremely difficult to make a decent shoe from foam core. This prevented me from running more effective user testing. When testing, it was not uncommon for a user to be worried about breaking the object, which was partly my fault because I asked them to not break it. This made it difficult to entirely explore the possible environments the object could operate in and develop a cavity and elevated pad that best optimized the experience on a variety of terrains.

It was also difficult to create a video that conveyed the experience a user would have with my object in a way that was both engaging and provided the necessary information. Unlike other objects, its effect is not visual or auditory, instead it is about touch and how that touch affects the rest of your body.

In my initial video draft, I dictated to users what they should feel. I felt that this was ineffective and decided to rely on a user’s past to provide context. This way a user could imagine what experience they could have with Tactile Grounds even though they were not directly involved in its development.

It is also important to point out that every user's perception of the video will be entirely based on their past experiences. I ultimately tried to portray the possibilities and aspects of the object a user could experience, specifically the ability it gives a user to notice, appreciate, connect, and question.

Early Tactile Grounds Storyboard

First Tactile Grounds Prototype

First Tactile Grounds Prototype

Second Tactile Grounds Prototype

Second Tactile Grounds Prototype

Tactile Grounds Experiments

Tactile Grounds Experiment