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A feeling for the tactile is important in product development

How products feel when we touch them is a matter of great interest to many companies, as this is crucial in our reaction to a product. RISE helps companies to test users’ tactile experience of various surfaces, as well as looking into what provides a given sensation.

Consider paper that you hold in your hands; for example, a newspaper you leaf through or a paper napkin. How does the paper feel – is it soft and smooth or hard and rough? The experience of touching a given surface is called tactile perception and it has a major impact on what you think about a product. This makes the field interesting to a great many companies and opens up a large market.

A broad field

Most products involve some form of touch. This applies not only to newspapers and paper napkins, but everything from our tactile perception of touch screens to how a skincare product feels against the skin.

“If a company manufactures a product that they want to provide the user with a given feeling, it is important that they understand what causes that particular sensation. By taking into account how the product should feel in the design process, and understanding the parameters that influence sensation, it is possible to achieve more effective product development,” explains Lisa Skedung, senior researcher in perception delivery at RISE. 

Helping the customer to measure sensation

Lisa and her colleagues help customers to measure sensation. Psychophysical methods, methods that stimulate the senses, are used to increase knowledge of how the surface physics and chemistry of an object control our various sensory perceptions. This data can be used to identify predictive models of perception, making it possible to predict whether a given material property will provide a given sensation.

“We can then predict, for example, which structure or level of softness a paper should have in order to provide the desired sensation in the user. Companies can use this information and relate it to their sales, thus learning which products and properties provide the sensations that customers are looking for,” says Lisa Skedung.

Facts: Perception

Perception deals with processes in the human brain when it receives and interprets sensory input from our senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. A great deal of perception occurs unconsciously in the brain, something we notice for example when we shut out certain sounds. Only when we focus on the sound do we actually hear it!

RISE conducts a great deal of work in the field known as tactile perception, which deals with sensation and touch. Companies often want to ensure that their customers receive the right sensation from a product; that we as users enjoy a positive tactile experience. Ideas are being developed to introduce vibrations or friction to screens in order to generate a given sensation; for example, a plastic screen surface could be designed to feel like some other material such as fabric or wood.