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Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao Dissertation Defense

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Hybrid Body Craft

Committee:
Chris Schmandt
Principal Research Scientist
MIT Media Lab

V. Michael Bove
Principal Research Scientist
MIT Media Lab

Federico Casalegno
Chief Design & Innovation Officer, Samsung Design Innovation Center
Associate Professor of the Practice, MIT Comparative Media Studies
Director of the MIT Design Lab

Abstract:
Sensor device miniaturization and breakthroughs in novel materials are allowing for the placement of technology increasingly close to our physical bodies. However, unlike all other mediums, the human body is not simply another surface for enhancement—it is the substance of life, one that encompasses the complexity of individual and social identity. The human body is inseparable from the cultural, the social, and the political, yet technologies for placement on the body have often been developed separately from these considerations, with a dominant emphasis on engineering breakthroughs. This dissertation investigates opportunities for cultural interventions in the development of technologies that move beyond clothing and textiles, and that are purposefully designed to be placed directly on the skin. How can we design emerging on-body interfaces to reflect existing cultural practices of decorating the body? This dissertation looks at this question through the development of a series of research artifacts, and the contextualization of a design space for culturally-sensitive design.  

In this dissertation, Body Craft is defined as existing cultural, historical, and fashion-driven practices and rituals associated with body decoration, ornamentation, and modification. As its name implies, Hybrid Body Craft (HBC) is an attempt to hybridize technology with body craft materials, form factors, and application rituals, with the intention of integrating new technological functions with no prior relationships with the human body with existing cultural practices. With this grounding, HBC seeks to support the generation of future techno customs in which technology is integrated into culturally meaningful body adornments.

The artifacts in this dissertation encompass the integration of technologies such as flexible electronics, chemical processes, and bio-compatible materials into existing body craft customs. These artifacts contribute novel, culturally-inspired form factors, and interaction modalities for on-body technologies. A design space is presented to examine shifts in material temporality and communicative qualities in these Body Crafts due to the integration of technology. By incorporating cultural considerations into the design of on-body technologies, my goal is to investigate opportunities for extending their lifetimes and purposes beyond mere novelty and into the realms of cultural customs and traditions. 

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