The Development and Use of Non-Screen Based Interactive Textile Objects for Family Communication

  • Joanne Mcnicoll

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In this modern landscape where families are spending increasing time living separately, due to parental separation, work travel, and illness, current communication technologies do not fully support the needs of intimate family communication in families with young children, aged two to nine.

Prolonged separation, without intimate communication, can damage parent and child relationships, impacting on intimacy, bonding, and a child’s mental health and wellbeing. Care and play activities are the main methods used to build bonds between parent and child. These are hard to replicate with ubiquitous communication technologies when families are separated.

Ubiquitous technology, such as the telephone, is easy to use but does not offer engaging ways for a child to interact. Skype (video call), has a higher potential for engagement due to its multimodal nature (audio and visual), therefore is more emotionally expressive. However, to ‘Skype’ someone, a child requires adult support, as the technology is more complex to use than that of a telephone. Thus, neither the telephone or Skype fully meet family needs for communication.

Parental-child separation was looked at within parental separation, work travel and illness, to explain how intimacy can be achieved through technology mediated communication systems. Following a Participatory Action Research methodology, utilising methods such as co-design, co-creation, and participatory design, the research discusses five small-scale studies as well as the Trace project, which was the main study of this research.

This research addresses communication issues between families through textile-based communication systems which enable intimacy and bonding. It highlights the importance of intimate communications and offers a list of preferred modes of communication for scattered families (multimodal disparate objects that allow for synchronous or asynchronous communications with either the same modes or different modes of input and output). It also outlines key methods for designing new technologies suitable for use in family research (inclusive methods such as co-design, co-creation and participatory design). A better understanding of the participant families’ emotional needs was achieved, by allowing them to become active participants at every stage of the design process (planning, acting, observing, and reflecting), thus producing considerate technologies for remote family communications.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsArts & Humanities Research Council
SupervisorChris Lim (Supervisor)


  • Family Communication
  • Intimacy
  • Play
  • Co-design
  • Smart textiles
  • Wearable Technology
  • Soft Textiles

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