Interface design Between man and machine

Track | Danckwerth Laboratory 2016
Track | Danckwerth Laboratory 2016 | Photos © Ailine Liefeld, Timon Beutel

The conditions, goals and obstacles of the interface between man and machine have been being investigated for about twenty-three years now. The optimization of man continues to advance. By activating a computer chip, interface design products and their users can enter into interactive exchange relationships.
 

Interface design has been a university degree course in Germany since 1993. The discipline addressed itself to the design of user interfaces that connect man and machine and optimize our lives.

Functional companions

Aesthetics, but above all functionality, are particularly important for interface design and are ensured by a well-structured user surface and easy-to-use control elements. Interface designers usually work in large teams; their networks are broad and cover business, research and industry. For if their inventions test well with users, they will be manufactured in series. Portable computer systems, so-called wearables, are subject to the highest security standards. They are intended to revolutionize the health care system and provide information and communication technologies for prevention, diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and administration.

The MediGlove

MediGlove is a wearable which, in the form of a glove, is to be used in the field of medicine. For over two years various functional models of the glove have been developed. The inside of MediGlove carries small sensors that replace the conventional instruments of medical examination such as the clinical thermometer, stethoscope and blood pressure gauge. When the doctor touches the hand, arm or other parts of the patient’s body with the glove, the corresponding data are registered, transmitted and stored via Bluetooth. The idea for MediGlove comes from Philipp Rösler and Thomas Kores, who both studied integrative design at the University of Applied Sciences in Dessau. Their design for MediGlove won the Saxony-Anhalt state competition Bestform in 2015 for the “impressively humane kind of examination” it made possible. The prototype of the intelligent glove is not yet finished; many details remain to be explored, as Philipp Rösler explains: simple handling plays “a big role, as do parameters such as disinfection and flexibility in movement and examination. The same construction sites are currently subject to the final choice of materials, which couldn’t yet be considered in the prototype.”
 

Track

The Berlin-based designer Julia Danckwerth has also taken up a humane concern in her project Spur (Track), which she is working on as part of her PhD dissertation at the Bauhaus University in Dessau. In July 2015 the project won the Berlin Award Wearable IT-Fashion Tech. In collaboration with the German Alzheimer Society, Danckwerth designed the modular system Spur. It is intended to enable dementia patients to live independently as long as possible – a topic much under discussion, for in Germany there are about 1.6 million dementia sufferers and in 2050 there are expected to be double as many.
 
Spur consists in five individual modules that can be inconspicuously attached to the inner side of any piece of clothing like a brooch. The system contains sensors that react to specific impulses. It offers person-tracking, Nearby functions with a range of up to thirty metres, fall detection, a stove fire safety system and can also emit emergency signals. By means of an application or a special receiving device, data can be transmitted to patients’ relatives, doctors and nurses. Spur is also still in development. Produced in series, it could make a significant contribution to age-appropriate living, health, safety and fashion.

Improved performance without limits? 

Interface design is versatile. We can use it to send a signal, communicate with other people, document precisely our body activities. The measuring and recording of personal data is called “self-tracking”, of which many people make use today. Critics like to describe the many measuring instruments and numerous smartphone apps for checking and tracking body functions as “body Trojans”. Danckwerth too has drawn attention to the perils of interface designs. Performance optimization becomes worrying above all when the employee is not free to decide about the increase of his productivity. In the most unfavourable case, these developments culminate, in Danckwerth’s view, “in a scenario of the coalescence of man and machine by transplantation and the use of substances, often criticized by techno sceptics. Whether a fusion of man and machine in the sense of trans-humanism becomes real remains to be seen.”