Original Studio Proposal


There has been a significant increase in commercial interest in wearable technologies, spearheaded by Google’s Glass project and also by the success of a new generation of fitness oriented biosensors such as the Fitbit, the Bodymedia Fit, and the Misfit Shine.  However, although there is a good deal of optimism and excitement about the future of wearable technology, the design space currently occupied by these new wearables is actually quite narrow.  We would argue that this is in part due to a preoccupation with individual-focused, data-driven function of the wearable devices among technology designers, and – consequentially – a lack of attention to the ways in which these device shape the social interactions, emotional experiences and identities of wearers. Google Glass has received significant media attention, not just because it enables a new mode of interaction with computational devices, but also because it visibly alters the social identity of its user [e.g. 8].  Wearable technologies are different than handheld technologies in part because of the ways in which clothing, costume, and fashion are used as expressive social performances in the world.  Incorporating an understanding of the expressive and social dimensions of wearability opens up new design possibilities for this technology.

Concurrent with the rise in fitness and lifestyle focused wearables, in the last 10 years there has been a proliferation of embodied interfaces for digital games, including systems such as Nintendo’s Wii, Sony’s Move controller, and Microsoft’s Kinect, as well as independent ‘indie’ experimentation with custom controllers.  These devices afford a range of new playful experiences, in part by circumventing the entrenched literacies associated with the handheld video game controller – literacies that exclude many potential gamers who have not mastered the arcane feats of manual dexterity required by such interfaces.  Embodied interfaces have opened up a whole new design space for games [e.g. 4, 7].  It is evident that interfaces that reshape the body of the player in meaningful ways are capable of using the body as an expressive channel for narrative meaning [10]. Performing an avatar/player character physically and socially can increase the sense of identification and immersion the player feels, as well as heighten social engagement and involvement for both players and spectators [3]. There is a growing ‘indie’ movement that has increasingly taken up embodied interaction (e.g. Kaho Abe’s games, [1], including the Costumes as Game Controllers project [2]). We draw upon this work in the proposed studio.

Some "glasshole"...

Wearing Google Glass is an expressive act – it has come to signify participation in a value-laden discourse around technology, privacy, and wearability

Taking inspiration from theatrical costuming and fashion design, we plan to host a studio that enables participants to create wearable game controllers that include costuming elements.  In theatrical and dance practice, costumes and masks are frequently used to elicit specific character behaviors in performers.  Improvisational theater theorist and Mask practitioner Keith Johnstone describes masks as a source of outside->in transformation [5]. Stanslavski, the father of Method acting, wrote about the power of masks and makeup to elicit powerful new experiences of the self [9].  Schools of outside->in method acting have long held that it is possible to use external stimuli including costumes, choreography, and tangible props to elicit transformative experiences in a performer.

Fashion aficionados similarly use the clothing they select to inhabit an identity and to project that identity in social contexts and interactions with others. What takes place in a bounded ‘magic circle’ of gameplay with costuming, we believe also has relevance outside this sphere and in the realm of everyday life. We can see the beginnings of the modulation of wearables into fashion with experiments like Google’s collaboration with Diane von Furstenberg putting Glass on runway models [6]. The proposed studio will allow participants to reflect upon the transformation of wearables into fashion objects in their own right, toward anticipating and designing these aspects of such devices.

The “Costumes and Wearables as Game Controllers” studio aims to explore how researchers within the tangible and embodied interaction community can expand the expressive possibilities inherent in wearables and embodied interfaces by applying inspiration from costuming and fashion design.


Games like Kaho Abe’s Hit Me! make use of player postures and movements to explore social dynamics and create engaging spectacle.

Studio Proposal

In addition to providing an easy-to-use hardware prototyping platform, we will also provide a wide assortment of clothing, costume pieces, and accessories for participants to modify and transform into wearable game controllers.  Participants will be invited to bring any costume or prop items that they would like to contribute to the shared group pool, so long as they understand that these items may well be modified and re-appropriated during the studio.We plan to assemble a simple kit for quickly hacking together wearable game controllers, so that participants can focus on the expressive possibilities of designing new wearable game interfaces.  We propose a very simple hardware platform comprised of conductive fabric, alligator clips, and the MaKey MaKey interface board, which we will provide to teams of participants to facilitate rapid prototyping of wearable controllers.  For more advanced and ambitious participants we will also provide an assortment of Arduinos, accelerometers, flex sensors, and other off the shelf sensors.  Participants are encouraged to source and supply their own specialized hardware if they desire to work with any particularly esoteric sensors or devices.

Prior to the start of the studio, the organizers will curate a selection of free-to-play online games that we believe will lend themselves to this type of expressive interface design.  A list of these games will be provided to the participants prior to their arrival at the conference, to help them plan possible new interactions ahead of time, but participants are also encouraged to suggest and provide other games that they are interested in designing new interfaces for.

Expected skills:

  • Passing familiarity with games and embodied interaction.

An understanding of basic electronics prototyping will be helpful, but is not required.

Expected preparation:

  • We will expect participants to bring a laptop computer capable of connecting to a MaKey MaKey via USB and the internet via WiFi.
  • Participants are expected to take the time to familiarize themselves with the provided list of games and with the basic workings of the MaKey MaKey ahead of time.
  • Optionally, participants are encouraged to bring any hardware, software, tools, and prototyping supplies they wish to contribute, particularly if they have a specialized design idea that they wish to realize.

Studio Topics to be covered

  • Embodied interaction and embodied game interfaces, characters and avatars.
  • Basics of method acting and “outside->in” theatrical techniques.
  • Cultural perspectives on clothing, fashion, and wearability.
  • The importance of shaping experience, identity, and sociality in addition to individualfocused function when designing wearable interfaces.

We anticipate that exposing participants to these interdisciplinary perspectives will support ongoing explorations of meaningful wearable interface design, beyond the confines of the studio itself.

Studio Learning Goals

Our studio will broaden participants’ perspective on design criteria and objectives for wearables and embodied interfaces, encouraging them to incorporate aesthetics, strategies, and values from costuming and fashion. The studio should provide valuable food for thought for participants interested in the future of the wearables and embodied interaction design space, shifting their approach to design values and process.


Thanks to Eyebeam gallery for support of the initial Costume as Game Controllers project in NYC.


[1] Abe, K. (2014). http://kahoabe.net

[2] Abe, K. and Isbister, K. (2014). Costumes as Game Controllers project, http://fashion.eyebeam.org/projects/the-lighting-bug-game

[3] Isbister, K. (2006). Better Game Characters by Design: A Psychological Approach. Morgan Kaufmann

[4] Isbister, K. (2012). How to Stop Being a Buzzkill: Designing Yamove!, A Mobile Tech Mash-up to Truly Augment Social Play. Keynote presentation, abstract included in Proceedings of MobileHCI 2012, San Francisco, CA.

[5] Johnstone, K. Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre. Theatre Arts Book, New York, 1987.

[6] Krupnick, E. (2012). Diane Von Furstenberg’s Google Glasses Bring Geek-Chic To Fashion Week (PHOTOS). Huff Post Style, 20 August 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/10/diane-von-furstenberg-google-glasses-fashion-week_n_1870234.html.

[7] Mueller, F. and Isbister, K. (2014). Movement-Based Game Guidelines. In Proceedings of CHI 2014, Toronto, Canada.

[8] Shuster, D. The Revolt Against Google ‘Glassholes’, New York Post, 14 July 2014, http://nypost.com/2014/07/14/is-google-glass-cool-or-just-plain-creepy.

[9] Stanislavski, C. Building a Character. A&C Black, 2013.

[10] Tanenbaum, J. and Bizzocchi, J. Rock Band: A Case Study in the Design of Embodied Interface Experience. ACM Press (2009), 127–134.