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Designing and Developing Wearables for Virtual Reality Environments with a Research Through Design Process

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WEARTUAL (Designing and Developing Wearables for Virtual Reality Environments with a Research Through Design Process)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2021-04-30

WEARTUAL investigates and develops ways to integrate wearables into virtual reality (VR) environments in a way that enhances the immersiveness of the VR experience. In particular, the investigation aims at understanding the possible role of wearables in extended reality environments beyond haptic interaction and bioadaptive features by exploring their relation to costuming, self-expression, interaction modalities, and social components. Mainly, this project is a research through design project that aims at creating design knowledge that can help the research society to design and develop wearable prototypes for extended reality environments drawing on their strengths such as their relation of them to self-identity, hybridity, skin conductance, and social interaction features.

The exploration regarding the wearables' role in extended reality environments holds great importance in this era where remote communication, work, collaboration, and socialization getting more widespread and required. Although fictional and a rather dystopic one, an example of such a concept is the movie Ready Player One, which envisions a future where the utilization of extended reality is a common daily activity and where XR equipment is complete only with the support of whole-body wearable kits. In this direction, further exploring the ways of integrating wearables and getting in-depth information about possible design paths holds importance for understanding the extent of full-body inclusion and the bodily experiences that can be introduced to such a project.

Overall, this project aims at understanding the futures where wearable devices can be integral parts of extended reality environments and discovering their value beyond the current applications such as haptic feedback or collecting simple bodily data such as heart rate.
In this project, we have started the work by organizing participatory design workshops to understand the design space of wearables for gameful extended reality environments. These workshops brought together experts, users and enthusiasts both from Finland and from other parts of the world. The generation of knowledge starting from here led to many developments such as a design framework for playful wearables, new methods for designing in/for extended reality environments, design concepts of playful wearables, and a proof-of-concept prototype. Below is a brief summary of the impact and dissemination:

Publications and Books
WEARTUAL project led to 20 open-access publication that informs the field about the design of playful wearables, methods that can be used to design in extended reality environments, playful applications in extended reality environments and further analysis regarding the utilization of wearables in games and other playful contexts. Moreover, based on the extended knowledge created in this project, an open access book from MIT Press will be published within this year.

Knowledge created in WEARTUAL project has been disseminated to the public through 10 talks, 12 public workshops, 5 scientific presentations and 3 university-level courses. The topics of the talks varied from broad-level introduction to gamification to more targeted activities such as ideations and discussions on designing playful wearables. Participatory Design Workshops were open to the participation of people from different backgrounds, expertise levels and disciplines which helped us to acquire the opinions and ideas of people from the distinct facets of society. During the project, we also had a chance to train and share our knowledge with bachelor, master, and PhD students through university courses that have been organized about the topics of gamification, game design, extended reality, design research, critical and speculative design.
Methods Developed
1. Immersive Video Sketching is an accessible and cost-effective method that allows people from various backgrounds to sketch and experience their ideas in extended reality environments. With this method, designers can quickly transfer their ideas to 360-degree immersive environments where they can preview immersive user scenarios through cardboard VR goggles and mobile phones.

2. Fusion Workshops: Fusion workshops represents a fragmented participatory design workshop structure where stakeholders are sensitized to different parts of a phenomenon in separate workshops. Later, these participants are gathered together in a bigger workshop in mixed groups to share their knowledge and ideate on new design concepts together by combining different facets of a topic.

Design Knowledge Generated
WEARTUAL project generated design knowledge in many different levels in the forms of design frameworks, design themes, and speculative/fictional design concepts. We can summarize the generated design knowledge as follows:

1. Design Framework for Playful Wearables
This framework introduces a broad framework regarding how to use playfulness while designing wearables. According to the framework, playful wearable design can be examined under three main planes, performative, social, and interactive. These planes are spectrums: Performative plane defines playful wearables between a spectrum of imaginary and immersive, Social Plane; between tight and relaxed and Interactive Plane is between artifact-oriented and embodied.

2. Design Implications
We have generated design implications through our workshops that can help with the integration of wearables into mainstream entertainment systems such as consoles, computers or virtual reality systems. Our implications suggest that 1) Wearables can lead body movements in a way that can help players to built affective relationships with their avatars, 2) wearables might extend the bodies of players through virtual worlds and create hybrid bodily perception, 3) they might allow adorning the body with pieces which help identification with avatars, 4) can lead to collocated physical interaction, 5) might increase the engagement and belongingness of players to particular games, 6) can extend the gameplay from screens to the daily life and 7) can be a bridge among the environment, players' body and the virtual worlds.

3. Design Themes
During our studies, by analyzing the input of our participants' we created an ample amount of design themes that can be useful in playful wearables design for playful and extended reality environments. Regarding the extended reality environments, we demonstrated that the wearables can be virtual costumes, modify the bodily perception and incorporate social interactions through bio-adaptivity in extended reality environments.

All these results, apart from advancing the overall design research and design methods for extended reality environments also introduced novel and state of the art knowledge for the design of playful wearables which will help designers of wearables and other bodily technologies.
Modular Cube Prototypes for Full Body Engagement
Project Concept and the Research Process