ZiZi the affectionate couch

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ZiZi is an affectionate couch. A fun shaped furry couch inspired by the set of Barbarella. When she gets attention she is happy and purrs. When bored she tweets to get attention. Fun and interactive. A toy. A study of human nature.

In his an article “ZiZi: The Affectionate Couch and the Interactive Affect Design Diagram” in the book Sonic Interaction Design Stephen Barrass starts by relating ZiZi to the limbic brain, taking her lineage all the way back to early mammals. His writing style is precise, concise, and organized.

From those early beginnings he traces the development of “affective user interfaces” which seem to be computer interactions which create an emotional feedback loop between machine and animal.

The questions explored with this work are central to all interactivity and possibly to all entertainment. The creation of any affective user interface, including an affectionate couch, means answering many fundamental questions about emotion, the first of which is: How can we categorize and organize emotion? The emotional structure used in this work is Russell’s circumplex of emotions which organizes emotions on a two dimensional grid with axes of pleasure and arousal.

Russels Circumplex

With a map of human emotion we can start to build programs that travel along that map. For creating games, particularly their artificial intelligences, this would be a powerful tool, but how to use it?

The International Affective Digitized Sounds (IADS) project maps 111 sounds to specific emotions organized on Russell’s circumplex.

Now we have an emotional topology that can be navigated through the use of sound. This database of sounds seems like a rich resource for interaction designers. Though we can’t use the actual audio files for artistic purposes, the names of the files (meow, carhorn, tireskid) give us plenty of useful information.

Interactive Affect Design Diagram

In a similar but more targeted fashion,  sounds were created for ZiZi to produce to reflect her emotional state. These sounds were mapped on Russell’s Circumplex (like the IADS sounds) along with the interactions that the couch would detect(no-one, sitting, patting, and stroking). This chart, the Interactive Affect Design Diagram (IADD), is considered by the project creators to be a major component of the project, and it seems that they find it as important as the couch itself.

By charting user interaction, emotional state, and machine response on one diagram, the IADD supplies the designer with a clear path between user interaction, virtual emotional state, and device response.

The creator’s future work will revolve around developing this diagram and applying it in further creative projects.

The makers of ZiZi pay homage to the exhibition that inspired the work: the Experimenta House of Tomorrow. You should also check out Experimenta itself, some great Media Art there!

This work impresses me for many reasons:

  • It is a simple idea, a couch that is affectionate.
  • It is beautiful to look at and interact with.
  • It is complex to create, but has a minimal presentation.
  • Its creation required learning more about human nature. (through this art we understand ourselves more)
  • It is approached as a scholarly pursuit as well as an artistic one.
  • There is a technical/scholarly and an emotional/embodied side to the documents that support the work. And the documents on both sides are well created and well written.

I hope you take the time to explore this work and the related documents. I believe that this is a wonderful example of Media Art and New Media and that the central concepts that it explores are valuable explorations for designers creating any type of interaction.

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One Response to “ZiZi the affectionate couch”

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