Discovering a new index for the value of a material’s texture
“aGEL”, an extremely soft gel material, is Taica Corporation’s primary product and technology. The division responsible for aGEL is not only focused on improving the functionality and performance through R&D, but is also constantly tackling new challenges.
Taica and FabCafe MTRL teamed up to tackle one of these challenges. As part of their efforts, they went beyond the original criteria that would define sensitivity, which includes shock absorption, vibration damping and heat dissipation. Recently, they commenced a new project which aims to create new indexes that include the experience of “touch” as well as a feeling of “pleasantness” derived from haptic communication. This collaboration is thus aiming to redefine what a gel can offer, giving it a renewed value.
“There were so many people that were amused by aGEL’s texture, so we thought to ourselves: can’t we use this texture in a new way?”
Since its founding in 1948, Taica has spent 70 years as a company that prides itself on developing technology, and has been engaged in the development of multifunctional materials specifically.
In recent years, the company is challenging itself to rid itself of its label as a “conventional” manufacturer, in hopes to create high-quality products in new industries.
As part of this change, Taica has encouraged each employee to adopt this challenging attitude, running internal competitions for new product and business ideas from within the company. Regarding this project, we sat down with Taica’s very own Hideyuki Uchida and Akira Mikuni to discuss their background.
Uchida: So, Mr. Mikuni has actually won of our internal business idea contests. Recently, we have been encouraging an attitude to challenge, and as a result new business has been born.
Mikuni: However, I am still unsure how much my idea can contribute to our business, once we realize it. That part is fairly difficult…Aside from this idea, I also considered how to establish aGEL in new areas. I am usually in Shizuoka as part of the R&D team, but I joined forces with Mr. Uchida, who is in Tokyo, and looked at what new things we can do in the next 2-3 years.
Uchida: When we first sit down at sales discussions and the like, we usually bring a cut sample of aGEL to let the potential customer feel it. We usually receive positive feedback, with customers saying things like “when I touch it, it just feel pleasant”. There were so many people that were amused by aGEL’s feeling of touch, so we thought to ourselves: can’t we use this somehow?
Mikuni: A cut sample is really just an ordinary sample. We simply present a cut-off piece of the material for the customer to touch. I actually thought that customers would not really understand the true value of aGEL just through this.
Uchida: We originally received a proposal from FabCafe MTRL’s Mr. Kohara. We analyzed this in our own way, and through internal discussions, realized that we wanted to create a new “standard” for touch. This direction just felt right to us. We wanted to make Taica the standard for the sense of touch, and created a UX value map as well as an experiential toolkit.
Mikuni: When you think about it, by changing numerical values, the valuation of any object can be re-created infinitely. For example, take changing the hardness of gel from 43 to 45. The numerical value changes, but what does that really mean? Does this improve our society? These are the things we thought about. As a researcher, this project allowed me to challenge these sorts of dilemmas as well.
UX Map: Haptics of Wonder
Created through a haptic framework, this UX Map allows users to identify the types of αGEL through their textures. Haptics refers to the sense of touch – and the experiences or feelings associated. This allowed Taica’s αGEL types to be evaluated not only on functionality but also on their ‘feel’. The materials were plotted on soft–hard and sticky–smooth axes, to present the variety of their textures.
In workshops set up by Loftwork, a large number of sample gels were categorized according to how they felt when touched. 12 distinctive types of αGEL were selected and named, based on a research method examining the relationship between phonemes and impressions. We expect to see new possibilities for the application of αGEL through the continued utilizations of this map.
Interactive Sample Kit: with 12 samples of αGEL (vol.1)
This sample kit contains 12 types of αGEL. The kit helps users wishing to incorporate αGEL into their designs/innovations to better understand the different types of αGEL.
Just like a coloring book with 12 colors, this kit has 12 textures, letting users experience each gradation. By using it with the αGEL UX map (‘Haptics of Wonder’), users will be able to grasp each gel’s distinguishing features in a tangible way.
Finding haptic indices
To create both the UX map (‘Haptics of Wonder’) and the sample kit (Vol.1), we needed to find haptic indices – the ‘feel’ of each gel type. We conducted workshops with Taica employees (research and sales staff), researchers in haptic studies, designers, copywriters and blind participants. We designed a space which could accommodate a variety of participants – and one in which people could come up with ideas while physically touching the samples.
Task 1: Mapping out textures using axies
・31 types of αGEL were provided. The samples were all in black to avoid any biases based on appearance. Participants were asked to intuitively map them.
・After mapping the gels, each piece was compared with others to ensure their accurate alignment.
・Stickers were placed directly on a transparent sheet over the map to plot it in consensus with the entire group.
・The texture maps from each team were integrated and the gels that would serve as indices were picked out.
* Texture map: After collecting 42 Japanese texture-related onomatopoeia, the images associated with each word were looked into experimentally. The map was made so that each texture would be placed near the word it stirred images of.
Task 2: Naming the gels using suitable keywords
・Each participant had to name the gels using metaphors (an easily relatable object or experience)
・The names were shared with the group, with the most relatable names serving as a foundation to build upon.
Workshop results and next steps
Two trends were predominant in the naming process: adjective-based names like “tight-smooth” or “wet-smooth”, and metaphors about events or conditions, like “hard workout” or “microwaved rice cake”. Based on these results, the vocabulary of the haptic indices became a combination of adjective-based expressions and poetic expressions.
After the workshop, the teams conducted sound tests to see how appropriate each expression was. The final names were decided by repeatedly testing the pronunciation within the teams.
[References] Relationship between Judgments of Comfort and Phonemes of Onomatopoeias in Touch – Junji Watanabe, Arisa Kano, Yuichiro Shimizu and Maki Sakamoto, “Transactions of the Virtual Reality Society of Japan” 16(3),2011.
Maki Sakamoto, Junji Watanabe. “Bouba/Kiki in Touch: Associations Between Tactile Perceptual Qualities and Japanese Phonemes”. Frontiers in Psychology,（9）295,2018.