Expressive Tactile Controls

Hayeon Hwang

What if physical controls such as buttons, dials and sliders had more expressive personalities? How could this inform and deepen our interaction with them? ‘Expressive Tactile Controls’ is a series of reactive tactile controls designed to react to their user in a variety of ways. This is a playful investigation into pushing the limits of our controls.


Push buttons, sliders, switches and dials—we use such controls everyday, and yet we barely notice them. ‘Expressive Tactile Controls’ is a series of playful research experiments that ask: how could our relationship to tactile controls be augmented by giving these controls more personality? How would buttons that have a stronger, more evocative personality affect and improve our relationship with the applications they are built into? How would people react to buttons that ‘talk back?’

This question was approached by constructing and testing a series of experimental pushbutton prototypes able to express themselves with various tactile and kinesthetic feedback (vibration, tension, and movement), according to the user’s touch or environment.

The first series included controls designed to feel Stubborn, Sensitive/Impatient, Lazy, Timid, Spontaneous, Resolute, and Excited. These ‘personality-enriched’ buttons were then used to provide users with a more intuitive tactile feedback, in accordance with the application they were serving.