by Pamela Harling-Challis, Great Yarmouth, England, 2002 (as part of project txoom)

Technology- [from the Gk. techno (art, craft) + logy, logia, logos (word, oral or written expression)] the totality of the means employed to provide objects necessary for human sustenance and comfort.

Art- skill in performance acquired by experience, study, or observation; a branch of learning;

Science- knowledge obtained through study or practice;

Science fiction- fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science upon society or individuals; literary fantasy including a scientific factor as an essential orienting component

(Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary G &C Merriam Company1965)

My role as a critical writer for Future Physical in the area of user research began with Trajets and was extended with txOom. In both instances I participated with the events through the following roles:

  • as an individual with refined body skills and knowledge
  • as an observer of behaviour
  • as an artist
  • as an educator
  • as a member of the public
  • as a leader of a group of user testers
  • as a co-researcher for the purpose of gathering and analysing data

This multi-faceted engagement, multi-roled approach added a 'thickness' to the experience and to my analysis of the data collected by myself and Nat Muller.

“The goal of the txOom developers was to design an 'action landscape', a place formed by the actions and behaviours of the people in it, in which the participants could have an experience of adventure….All the costumes and objects have motion sensors (accelerometers) embedded in them, together with a wearable computer and a wireless transmitter, that will allow the media to respond to the movements of the 6/7 people in the space….By wearing these garments, the participants literally wear the txOom space, causing the physical environment to be reshaped by the activity in it. This activity influences the shape of the physical environment as a whole, simultaneously inciting growth and mutation in the media worlds….If the interaction is successful, the participants should be able to 'grow their own worlds' within the framework of txOom's action landscape. Therefore in this document the 'adventure' is described only in terms of phases that the participants go through, rather than attempting to describe the phenomenological experience in the space. (Creative User Research txOom,- Great Yarmouth (18.11.2002 - 8.12.200) version 1, from Harling-Challis Briefing Files, November 2002)

The results of the live computer processing of accelerometer data is experienced by the participants as:

  • Visual media in the form of video projections into the space and on its objects, the motion of smart lights, the fluctuation of light in electroluminescent wire, and
  • Audio media, via an ever changing and modulating collection of sounds filling the space.

When txOom opened to the public at the Hippodrome Circus, Great Yarmouth, England. The experience of the participants was as follows:

  • Enter the Hippodrome Circus building, a huge almost 100 year old permanent structure built to resemble a circus big top. It is crumbling, gaudy, used, and totally atmospheric, evocative of the magic and mystery and the phenomena of the circus and uniqueness of the world that surrounds that particular form of theatre.
  • Pay at ticket booth
  • Move foyer waiting area to be greeted by performance artist Sia Kyriakakos who, wearing a metal hoop skirt on rollers, makes Greek coffee and serves it with an accompaniment of Turkish delight. After the coffee is consumed and the cups have rested upside down for some time, Sia, one by one, tells the future of each coffee drinker through reading the sludgy remains in the bottoms of the little cups.
  • Then a group of no more than 6-8 is escorted by a member(s) of the production team to a changing area where they leave their belongings, remove their shoes and change into white suits and white foot covers. At this time they are asked if they have a fear of heights and from this information the production team determine who will fly and who will remain on the ground.
  • The group is then led into the circus ring through a passage way that is dressed with light and fabric masking the performance space. In the space are four structures that fly, two swings to sit on that have attached fabric that functions as projection screen when flown into place: a 'caterpillar/worm' that is worn laying horizontally belly down in a paragliding harness, and a sit harness on a bungie cord. On the floor is a three foot diameter 'ball' with tendrils hanging off it and a 'wall' knitted out of electrolulminescent threads. The ring is illuminated with coloured light and quiet sound is filtering around the space. Those who are flying are assisted into their 'costumes' and taken up, and when all are moving into place, the sensors and live processing of sound and visuals is begun. Each group has approximately 20-25 minutes to play in the space. Throughout there are production team members on hand to assist.
  • When the time is over the participants are taken down and return to the dressing area to remove the white suits and foot covers, collect bags and shoes.
  • They then return to the foyer. All are asked if they will fill out an audience survey. Some are interviewed by production team members. And some finish getting their fortunes read. They depart when they wish.

Creative User Research

In order to fully realise the installation of txOom a series of user research sessions were set up. This involved and open invitation via the Future Physical web site for groups of digital, movement and textile artists and a partnership arrangement with Seachange for a group of single mothers, one of young offenders and a third composed of young people with learning disabilities

The purpose of the user testing was to examine '…how creative players (users) adapt to an environment (or not), where the main problems of interaction on a technical and social level occur, how people play/participate and what this play/participation constitutes on a creative level….that research for the education groups will focus on issues of learning, creativity, play (social) interaction. ' (Creative User Research txOoom,- Great Yarmouth (18.11.2002 - 8.12.200) version 1, from Harling-Challis Briefing Files, November 2002) Observation and interview were the research strategies employed.

It was planned that the user research sessions would take place in week two of a three week get in. A seventh group of first year performing arts degree student was added to the research, however their experience was during the fourth week of txOom when it was open to the public. Additional material was also included from interviews with members of the system intensive/apprentice groups and members of the public who participated in week four.

User research breakdown in terms of gender and age recorded as transcription or via written response:

  • 94 total
  • 47 male
  • 46 female
  • 18 male under age 18
  • 29 male over age 18
  • 4 female under age 18
  • 42 female over 18

Questions posed to the User Groups Week one and four, answered verbally, transcribed from tape:

  • What was your gut reaction to the experience?
  • Did you move freely or did you think about what you were 'supposed to do'??
  • Did you prefer playing alone or with others?
  • What did you like/dislike/ miss?

Questions posed to the performing arts group, week four, answered in writing.

  • What did it feel like? Gut reaction.
  • What did it make you think about?
  • How did you relate to the other's and object's in the space?
  • What did you get out of the experience?
  • What would have improved the experience?

In certain circumstances groups had the opportunity to re-enter txOom for a second time. The questions asked at the end of these sessions were as follows:

  • How did the experience differ from the previous one?
  • Did you feel like you had a creative role in the environment?
  • Did you feel you were controlling anything and was it important to know what you were controlling?
  • Did anything great, disturbing or annoying happen?

The purpose of interviewing and observing the user groups in the second week of the get in was to inform the developers about the experience of being in txOom so that refinements could be made to the objects, space and interactive processing system. Due to numerous problems development did not happen as rapidly as had been hoped, e.g. late delivery of batteries to power wearable accelerometer /computer units. However valuable data was gathered about the experience of the users. This data involved issues about real and perceived risk; comfort and wearability of the 'costumes' and phenomenological perceptions about the experience of spending time 'playing' in txOom.

The following is an example of a rapid analysis and proposals for consideration in development of txOom at the end of week two and shows the rationale for the proposals by the use of selective quotes from user researcher responses:


There was an expressed desire for DARKNESS to eliminate the view of the circus seating and create atmosphere, and a desire for MORE FABRIC SUSPENDED in the upper reaches of the space. This would also offer more surface for the visuals.

The fabric was “nice to pull” it “was soft”. Perhaps SENSORS CONTROLLING THE VISUALS COULD BE ALLOCATED TO THE FABRIC and even linked by pulleys to the silicone wall so that play in the wall would affect the motion of the fabric. This might be more effective than attaching the fabric to the swings, thus INCREASING THE SWINGS FREEDOM OF MOTION. Or, one swing could have fabric attached and the other not, because “the pull of the fabric behind the swings was lovely”

LOOK FOR WAYS TO INCREASE THE POSSIBILITY OF INTERACTIONS “it is nice if someone plays with your tail…”: through: more freedom of motion in each object/costume; physical attachments- ropes, bungies, safe pulley systems; those who are flying at a distance controlling a powerful sound or visual…;

SENSOR POSITIONS: When worn directly on the body there was a greater sense of making things happen. CONSIDER SENSOR CONFIGURATIONS AS A WAY OF CREATING “IDENTITY” thus sharpening the relationship between movement, sensation, sensor data and production of sound/light response.

BALLS: put a LIGHT INSIDE the computerised one (a cheap flash light) it looks good when it glows. SHORTEN TENDRILS for safety. Have OTHER BALLS In the space to encourage play and connections between people.


there was an expressed desire for the DYNAMICS OF THE SOUNDS TO MATCH THE ACTION THAT PRODUCED THEM, this would help identification of the sound through the BODIES ACTION; e.g., “big actions get big sounds…” (volume, duration, pitch, texture, density, aural variety and distinctiveness (the need for aural identity)…)

preferred sounds sources/types were: “BASS SOUNDS”, “PINGING NOISES”, “THE BEES” ,”THE CHANTING“, “DRUM AND BASS”, “NATURAL SOUNDS LIKE WATER RUNNING ON ROCKS. WIND, THUNDER…” A comment: “The movements were very organic but the sounds aren't”

there was an expressed desire to PLAY music- a desire to hear and MAKE RHYTHMIC PATTERNS “It would be nice to have a competition of sounds between players to see through which movements who can make the best sounds


Video needs “more defined images”, “more texture”, more saturated colour

Lights: polka dots were quite popular “Uh, Uh, Uh, Oooh all stoney!!!!”


1. Participants want to know WHAT IS MY IMPACT?

2. They want to makes PATTERNS. If they can make patterns they will answer No.1 through participating in the creation of No.3

3. They want to be in a MAGICAL ENVIRONMENT and be part of a new METAPHOR.

4. Somehow the following needs to be communicated to the participants/players: MOVEMENT AND STILLNESS ARE THE DRIVING FORCE. As individuals AND as a group, what you do makes the environment change quality.

(Extract from “10 Top Tips from Pam” , Harling-Challis Files, November 2002)

Though the data did not go as deeply as wished in gathering data about learning, creativity, play and social interaction it did offer valuable and even crucial information that was use to physically finish building and shaping txOom in time for the public to use the space in safety and comfort.

Conclusion to txOom User Research

Ultimately txOom User Research wanted to go some way to answering the following questions (and an attempt at answers):

1. Is it fun/educative? (an end product issue)

Yes it is fun. The comments from the users indicate that it was magical ” I felt like I was part of the circus, I did, where's the audience [claps his hands]” and exciting I loved it, I've never done it before!“. They spoke about their experiences using metaphor “it reminds me of skate wings”. They were transported to other places “I forgot about my whole life”.

Educative? Yes, but perhaps not to the degree it could be. In most instances each individual came away having experienced something new. The question that arises in terms of education is What are they going to do with that new experiential knowledge ? One mans comments from a session 8 December 2002

' [I was] immediately overwhelmed by ideas and thoughts and feelings wanting to rush off into all directions all at the same time. On one level just wanting to be a child and play. First reaction to play, what can this do what can that do. On another level as a scientist wanting to understand figure it all out pull it apart, sort of talk to the people who put it together, get into their heads, understand what are the bits, what does it do, what are their motivations, what are their hopes, what are they trying to achieve what feedback have they had so far? And then all the social aspects, this is a way of interacting; what have you observed and then the critical faculty as well, if I was doing this how would I do something different, what do I think is satisfactory, or unsatisfactory and why. You know its huge. Can’t really do it justice in a short time, you really just want to sit around for a week everyday playing a little bit, doing something…”

In terms of group learning there was only one clear reference by a user that described group learning experience. From 5 December 2002:

Woman with brown curly hair on question what did you do? “Played with things, found out that the ball controlled the sound, we all had to stand quite still in the middle in order find that out, cuz when we were all moving around we couldn't tell who was doing what basically, so we did all stand still…” Through collaborative effort [they] realised the response manner of the ball making sound.…everybody stood still to realise what the ball did….. The curly haired woman describes the moment where everyone stood still as her favourite bit; because she felt together with the rest, they had worked something out. “We nearly got there didn't we, when we all stood around in a circle, that was my favourite bit, suddenly you felt like you were together, you figured something out.”

2. Is it easy to use? (interface design issue)

Once the safety and comfort issues were ironed out the costumes were easy to wear. However, throughout the entire collection of user research answers there is a clearly expressed desire for closer connection between the users movement and the response triggered by the on board mechanisms. Proposals on how to possibly address this issue are in the section Trajets to txOom.

3. Does it make sense? (user experience issues)

Yes and no. It was different for each individual, and for each group. The stated aim '…to design an 'action landscape', a place formed by the actions and behaviours of the people in it…' was not fully realised. However, strides were made through the use of the data supplied by the user research aspect of the project.

Week two user research data directly shaped comfort and safety aspects of the installation as well as environmental components, e.g. the kind and volume of sound and the timing of when the sound and visuals should begin.

The inclusion of information from week four of the installation added to knowledge about the flow of the development of txOom. The statements made by the week four participants included the frustrations felt by many in the week two groups, frustrations about the unfulfilled desire to have clear and direct confirmation feedback about their movement contribution to the changing environment. However, the comments overwhelmingly expressed joy and excitement about the experience in general and included expressed desires to return to the space for a repeat experience. They wanted more.

On one level the stated aim about participants having “… an experience of adventure…' was realised. However, based on the narratives comments made by the both the user research participants and public participants it appears that the adventure had more to do with the immediate impact of being able to do things that the circus setting offered, e.g. flying. But, as mentioned above, comments were also made indicating that time with the environment added to knowledge about how it should work thus whetted appetites, feeding the desire to return to re-experience txOom. “Again, Again,Again!”

4. Does it work? (technical performance issues)

Sometimes. Robustness of the equipment needs to be addressed. Think toys, think playgrounds.

====Trajets to txOom, Food for Though ====

As stated earlier, my role as a researcher for Future Physical began with Trajets and has continued with txOom. The following is a collection of statements and is meant to be taken as 'Food for Thought'

  • From my report on Trajets I extend a proposal for the following:


1) To make use of the material on effort analysis by Rudolph Laban. From observation and analysis of comments by user groups a consideration of effort in the design of the txOom space and objects might prove fruitful especially in developing the 'identity' of each spatial component. Effort Analysis deals with the inner attitude behind how we make our movement choices and offers a system of recording that 'how'. This makes it possible to step away from the event and see patterns and potentially make connections between those results and personality traits e.g. identity. For years this analysis has been put to use in dance therapy, personality assessment and even has applications in business management.

A possible direct connection could be made between identity type and the kind of sensors used on each object- e.g. accelerometers only respond to one kind of movement- and not every one/thing moves with that kind of attack. Identity could be looked at in terms of location in space (environment); positioning of body parts (sensor locations); impulse and release of the dynamics of movement (kind of sensor and software processing; and the physical range in action (kinesphere).

Thinking theatrically in terms of character. Anthropomorphise all. Eat/defecate, sleep/awake, reproduce/die, move/rest, sound/silent, take in/give out, function/break. Structure choreologically.

Suggested references: Rudolph Laban The Mastery of Movement .ed. by Lisa Ullman Boston: Plays Inc. 1971; and Valerie Preston-Dunlop and Ana Sanchez-Colberg Dance and the Performative, a choreological perspective Verve, 2002.

2) txOom's use of the circus venue and its implicit magical and theatrical association was supportive of the desire for the participants to have an adventure. Sia Kyriakakos serving coffee and fortunes in the foyer added to the magic and mystery, in essence foreshadowing the events to come. These two elements form part of what Mosston and Ashworth call a pre-impact set, it is what you do before you do the 'practice' of learning. It is the introduction. Then follows the impact set and the post-impact set where reflection takes place. Their book looks at the relationship between these sets and exposes how their delivery effects learning. The material within may be useful in analysing and constructing the identity and contents of ante-chambers , chambers and de-compression chambers in installations. Reference: Mosston Muska and Sara Ashworth. Teaching Physical Education. London: Merrill Publishing Company, 1986.

3) After Trajets I suggested that Honey and Mumfords work into learning styles might be useful in developing interfaces between inter-actors and the environment and its object. After participating in txOom I still think this could be useful, however if the objects and the space have clearly developed and realised identities (via Laban and use of multi-sensors and multi-processing programmes) the participants, through their behaviour, relationships and interactions, will create the interfaces themselves.

“Activist learn best where you can engross yourself in brief learning games , simulations or role play….Reflectors learn from activities where you can observe….Theorists learn best from activities where you can question and probe methods and assumptions….Pragamitists will learn best from activities where you can try out and practice with feedback….'

Reference: Honey,Peter and Alan Mumford. Training to Train, Working with Learners, Workshop Handout based on the work of Honey and Mumford, 1986.

How we construct our technology is how we imagine our bodies are.

  • Our bodies procedure for learning involve:
  • Intention
  • Direction
  • Practice
  • We practice through the following social structures:
  • Individual
  • Partnership
  • Collaboration
  • Inter-authorship
  • The experience of these social structures is
  • Isolation
  • Open
  • Covert
  • Shared
  • Play, Ritual and Rehearsal all take time and the products of those activities are shaped through social engagement. It is only life that isn't a Rehearsal. There is a need for repetition in evolution or evolving processes for the acquisition of knowledge, skill and transformation. Repetition wears things in and wears things out. This need applies to the experience of the participants and creator/designers of Trajets and txOom.
  • Risk is important to learning. It up anxiety levels that are then reduced by the acquisition of skill. Experience or knowledge settles perceptions of risk. In Trajets the risk was intellectual and personal- how does it respond and how do I make it respond? In TxOom the risk was physical- and psychological, flying is not something most people have done and heights challenge fear. Interestingly there were a number of references to the component of vertical distance between participants in txOom and there a number of attempts to physically connect the up space with the earth space through manipulation of objects from both above and below. Puppet masters, omniscient beings………………………
  • Desires for perceiving and making a flow of pattern in space and sound. Desire to come to a complete stop or a complete silence. Transition and transformations between-

Thickness, Thing, Pattern, Texture, Surface, Reflection. Statement by a participant: 'If the narrative is being created by you, you need to feel it.' Yet for some 'Making the space is not as important as being in it'.

  • The scale of txOom and the physicality of playing is FUN!
  • Science fiction- fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science upon society or individuals; literary fantasy including a scientific factor as an essential orienting component (Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary G &C Merriam Company1965)
  • Physics of relationships
  • Geography of the body
  • Geology of the mind
  • Ecology of motion
  • Chemistry, anthropology, technology, choreography…of…

The body is mundane, virtuostic and it is the most efficient mechanism for processing and rendering data and experience. In some instances digital art/technology appears to be attempting to access authentic human response- emotional, physical, social and cognitive for the purpose of………seeing ourselves better…… ?

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  • Last modified: 2008-12-03 14:44
  • by nik