Self-explaining Objects: Design Research on Tactile Experiences with Analogue, Virtual, and Hybrid Surfaces


Surface design is often paradoxically neglected as a touchpoint of the embodied experience in the living tension of hybrid, virtual as well as real designed objects. The paradox consists in the fact that even though touch and haptic perception convey the “sensibility of the individual to the world adjacent to his body by use of his body” (Gibson, 1966), surfaces are not at the heart of interaction design studies, quite extensively focused on interfaces on one hand, and on full body interaction on the other. This design research investigates the expressive, informative and functional values of analogue, virtual and hybrid surfaces in order to explore the self-explaining material and immaterial (digital) nature of objects. We asked ourselves how self-explaining objects provide guidance to human action by the information that might be conveyed, embedded and communicated by their surface. Our approach includes explicit and intentional information, as well as tacit information that might be evoked by the haptic qualities of the objects. The research case analysis demonstrates that tactile experiences with analogue, virtual, and hybrid surfaces might both anticipate human action, by providing information before it takes place, and enrich the ongoing activity providing contingent guidance both locally and at a distance.


Alessandro Pollini
Researcher, Faculty of Psychology, International Telematic University Uninettuno, Italy

Silvia Gasparotto
Researcher, Università degli Studi della Repubblica di San Marino, San Marino

Alessandra Bosco
Researcher, Department of Design Cultures , IUAV University , Venezia, Italy


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Designed Objects


Material, Immaterial, Interaction design, Objects, Surface

Digital Media


Self-explaining Objects (mpv)