Digital Materiality, Embodied Practices and Fashionable Interactions in the Design of Soft Wearable Technologies
Frances Joseph, Miranda Smitheram, Donna Cleveland, Caroline Stephen, Hollee Fisher


The emergent field of smart textiles is recognized as an interdisciplinary domain drawing from fields including electrical engineering, materials science, textile design, physiology and interaction design as well as involving specialists from application areas such as sports and health science. While each discipline has contributed specific knowledge, an initial focus on technical development has led to an emphasis on function and scientific discourse, ignoring relevant fields like dress and fashion and post-cognitive perspectives that prioritize materiality and embodied experience. As the field continues to develop, different theoretical perspectives are needed to inform new conceptual and methodological approaches to support this expanding, combinatorial field. The notion of embodied interaction, which recognizes the fundamental importance of engaging and re-conceptualizing technology through the experience of the body and its senses, is critical to this effort.
Technology oriented approaches informed by theories of human-computer interaction (HCI) have underpinned the development of interactive textiles. This paper considers the limitations of HCI approaches, and those of normative semiotic theories of fashion in relation to the design of soft wearable technologies. Two recent smart garment design projects that have used embodied interaction approaches are discussed in relation to three theoretical perspectives: firstly from current dress/fashion theory, where notions drawn from new materialism and embodiment theory have led to a reconceptualization of dress as corporeal experience; secondly that of somatics, an approach where knowledge is developed from within the lived experience of the moving body; and thirdly in relation to new material ontologies that address the digital materiality of smart textiles. The theoretical and methodological approaches discussed in the paper and explored through the projects introduce new ideas and methods to inform the design of soft wearable technologies and smart textiles.

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