Haptic design principles

Designing haptic feedback can be a challenging and intimidating task. The following principles haven proven successful throughout numerous projects and are here to help yours.

Design process
The principles are grouped by the stages of a user centred design process:
Concept  →  Ideate & experience  →  Define  →  Modulate  →  Integrate & Evaluate

For each stage
you will find a description of the task as well as the recommended outcome. Keep in mind that every application is different and account for multiple iterations along the way to achieve the desired outcome.
For additional mobile tailored insights, also take a look at guidelines by Apple or Android.

Where to start?
It's a good idea to go through the principles and process steps before a new project. This allows you to become familiar with the overall structure and will help you to focus on the most important aspects. During the project, you can refer to each phase separately and use the principles to cross-check your ideas or gather inspiration.

Hover or tap on each principle to learn more - Let's get started!

Concept

Analyse the context before you start

Task: Start by laying out the interaction concept. Analyse the physical object, environment, and target user within the context. Consider the material properties, where the actuator can be positioned and how/ when the user is in physical contact. Define why and how haptic feedback is appropriate in this situation.

Outcome: A detailed description of the interaction, object and context.

Consider a multimodal experience whenever possible

A multimodal feedback is not only more distinct and easier to process, but it can also shape the characteristics of the haptics further.

Receiving a notification on your phone in a muted vs. unmuted state

It is difficult to create isolated haptic feedback in objects

Depending on the material and build, the feedback will spread across the whole object. Isolate the actuated surface if necessary.

In small devices with tight fitted parts, the position of the actuator might not matter

Be aware of the required assembly space

Place the actuator as close to the physical user input as possible, but keep in mind the required assembly space including trigger electronics.

Not every application allows the interaction of active haptics

Ideate & Experience

Get to know the technology

Task: Try out different actuators and acquire a sense for the characteristics and possibilities. Don't overcomplicate this step and make use of quick and dirty prototyping. Consider the placement within the object as well as the body position and play with different ways to attach the actuator.

Outcome: A selection of the most promising actuators and body locations.

Create tailored feedback for each body part

Haptic perception is not equally distributed and perceived across the human body.

Higher frequencies can work great on the fingertips, but are highly uncomfortable when used on the head

Choose the actuator based on the desired characteristic

Different types of actuators produce varying haptic sensations which might or might not be useful in your case.

LRA’s are a great start, but very limited in their character bandwidth

The signal generation can be equally important

The driving electronics can have a big impact on the feedback.

ERM’s or LRA’s work best in close-loop systems, while voice coil actuators also work well with audio signals

Define

Specify the characteristics

Task: Define the characteristics of the feedback based on the context, scenario and actuator. Think about how your message can be communicated through haptics and try to describe it as detailed as possible. Make use of references (a light switch, electric toothbrush..) and collect any words or sounds that come to your mind (soft, precise, a bee, brrrrrtz..)

Outcome: A thorough description of the desired feedback characteristics.

Define before design

Define the context, functionality, characteristics and content of the feedback before your start modulating.

→ Different paths are required to achieve a crisp confirmation or a pocking warning

Differentiate from surrounding influences

Environmental influences such as mechanical noise and temperature can impair the haptic perception.

Hands and feet are sensitive to picking up environmental influences (Power drills, chainsaws..)

Reference real-world experiences

By replicating common characteristics, the feedback becomes less artificial and easier to recognise.

Emulate characteristics and patterns from similar mechanics or human interactions

Modulate

Designing the feedback

Task: Modulate the feedback according to the concept, definition and actuator capabilities. This step is crucial and might take some time to master. Account for multiple iterations to tune the parameters for a perfect fit.

Outcome: Multiple feedback drafts to evaluate in a user test.

Keep up the coherency between different modalities

All modalities should communicate the feedback coherently (characteristic/ intensity,..) and perfectly timed.

With simulated button clicks, we can sense a wrong timing down to microseconds

Clearly differentiate haptic sensations

Our body can perceive  a broad bandwidth of characteristics, but has trouble identifying only slight differences.

Make use of a high contrast in the parameter values for different cues

Keep the feedback short, simple and consistent

Haptic feedback is most powerful when you can intuitively react on it.

The more complex the feedback, the less immersive it becomes and more repetitions are needed to learn it

Use an adequate intensity and amount of feedback

Design the haptic intensity level with care or let the user decide.

→ While we can close our eyes, we can not turn off our haptic perception

Integrate & Evaluate

Asses the interaction

Task: Compare the achieved sensation with the defined characteristics. Make sure to not only test it on your desktop, but in the final context with multiple users and feedback variations. Try to create a realistic setup and environment which is as close to the final product as possible (and with as little effort as possible eg. Wizard-of oz)

Outcome: A haptic interaction which fits the concept, product and user requirements. In the vast majority of cases this will require multiple iterations of testing and refining. It might also lead to reframing your initial concept.

Evaluate & iterate in multiple instances

Create tangible prototypes throughout the process to validate changes.

Even small alterations in the signal can have a big impact on the characteristics and perception

Try it out in the final object and material

The material and construction of an object directly influences the perception and spread of haptic feedback.

Different materials and connections such as using glue vs. screws will have an impact

Evaluate in the final context

The perception is highly influenced by the context and the users behaviour.

Evaluate it in the final context considering eg. proper clothing, equipment and other possible distractions

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