In COMMIT/ Play, we are designing a system that allows young people (between 15 and 18 years) to develop a number of social skills. The concept that we are working on helps them to express feelings with images and sounds, to better understand themselves and each other. This awareness can be used to encourage young people to get control over their emotions. The installation can be controlled with the entire body.
On 10 and 11 January, we conducted usability tests that were lead by our graduate Laura Buijs. She is studying psychology and is looking at the impact of our installation on empathy. Twenty young people aged 15-18 years participated in the tests. They were asked to express their emotions by selecting and manipulating colors, vibrations and patterns in the installation that was made by developer Laurens Schuurkamp. In addition, I conducted a qualitative study to assess the impact of the installation on the participants.
The participants were surprised that it was possible to convey an emotion in this way, with colors and patterns. One of the participants said: "When I read the invitation, I really thought it would be a stupid idea. But it’s really cool! It's great that you guys have proven that this is possible."
In order to be able to intuitively operate the system (rather than in a cognitive manner), it was important that the participants were made sensitive. Factors that influence this are the history of the participant, the presence of background music or a quiet versus hectic environment. In addition, it proved easier for young people to portray their emotions if they could name them afterwards.
Although all the participants expressed their emotions in their own way, others could still recognize them. For participants who knew each other well, this was easier: they knew each other's history and stories already. For the people that didn’t know each other that well, the installation provided insight into the other person: "I am learning a lot more about him, I did not know he was so sad." Most participants would like to have the results on video, so they could take them home. One girl said: "I would like to show this to my parents." Even though the usefulness of the system is not immediately obvious to everyone, all the participants found it fun to do. In particular, the new and original elements of the installation were appealing.
Our next steps will be focusing on sound, interaction, interface and spatial arrangement. We will again conduct some tests, with a testgroup that will be selected espcially for these targets.