Most electronics tend to look pretty much the same–sleek, shiny, dark, and a little futuristic. The newest gadgets from U.K.-based designer Yen Chen Chang, on the other hand, are hand-crafted and cuddly.
Take his orange juice maker. It is a giant knitted ball that you squeeze hard when you want a drink.
“I was questioning why existing consumer electronics have such a standard form,” says Chang, who recently graduated from the Royal College of Art.
At first, his project was just about aesthetics. But as Chang experimented with what he calls “crafted electronics,” he realized that the knitted electric cables he was using also had the potential to fundamentally change how people interact with the devices they own. By knitting everything together, the objects became sensors; pushing or pulling or stretching could turn the device on and off and control what it did.
Several of the designs are experimental and unlikely to ever be made, like the orange juice machine, or a small fan that turns on and blows harder as you run your hand across a grass-like rug in front of it. But the design can easily have practical uses.
“Imagine a pair of gloves we wear to keep our hands warm during winter,” Chang says. “Instead of pressing a button on your phone to shoot a picture, now you do a hand gesture to tell your phone to take a picture. There are lots of different ways we can re-imagine what electronic devices could be like or look like by simply integrating a different sensing interface.”
Chang designed a pair of gloves that acts sort of like Guitar Hero without the guitar. By moving your fingers in the air, the gloves sense which notes you’re playing and connect to a speaker that plays the melody. Similar technology could be used to replace any of the usual buttons on devices, or worked into clothing or knitted shoes to add new capabilities for feedback.
“The textile sensing interface is more tangible, intuitive, and more human compared to other digital components,” Chang says.
Though squeezing and pulling on these electronics doesn’t help power them, it might help give a tactile reminder of the energy we use. In the orange juice maker, for example, “squeezing the ball turns into force to press the orange, and could visually communicate that relationship,” Chang says.
Making electronics a little friendlier and more touchable might also increase the chances that consumers will get attached to them–and be a little less likely to toss them out as soon as the newest tech comes out. Of course, maybe that’s a design companies will be loath to adopt.