The Aesthetics of Coupling

How can our behavior in the real world be linked to the manipulation of digital data? The link between our physical actions and digital events is called coupling.

A night lamp

We believe that coupling should be a focus of design for interaction. Moreover, we think coupling can be a source of aesthetics, just like form, material and color. We explored this idea in a research project. We designed a night lamp, which has its place in a child’s bedroom, next to the bed. The night lamp offers two modes of use: reading light and night light. It employs a particular action routine to switch from one mode to the other.

We envisioned the lamp as containing two distinct entities: the physical object itself, and the light inside of it. The object represents the physical world, and the light inside stands for the digital. The lamp illustrates how an intangible and ungraspable entity, the light inside, can be manipulated and guided through well-defined, measurable physical movements. In fact, the movement of the light is meticulously coupled to the movement of the lamp’s spherical handle. Both movements happen simultaneously, and share the same place and direction. Yet, both moving entities, light and spherical handle are clearly separate, and can never become one. The apparent similarity as well as the contrast between them creates a tension, which we consider to be a source of aesthetics.

The Aesthetics of Coupling