Designing haptic responses 101
I recently spent some (lockdown) time learning the basics of haptic feedback design. Having designed lots of UI feedback in the past I wanted to build another layer to my understanding and delve in to the current possibilities with today’s devices.
What are haptics?
Haptic feedback is any physical notification/indication that can be felt by your body. The most common type of haptic response for product designers today are phone and wearable interfaces that notify users, without alerting other people. Sometimes these are used together with audio and visual responses to add an extra layer of richness to the experience. Games designers have been using haptics for many years now within controllers.
Compared to visual and audio cues, haptics are somewhat under utilised by product designers. They have a far more intimate outcome as it is an interaction with a person’s body. Haptics have a subtlety and nuance that presents a fascinating design challenge.
The right response, to the input(s)
First consideration has to be the different inputs. With 3D touch and other pressure inputs, users can provide different inputs to instigate different haptic responses, based on the amount of pressured applied to a surface. The response should be appropriate to the input. In the same way a UI can respond different to hover, focus or press.
Think of animation principles
Designing haptic feedback shares many of the same queues as animation.
You can make small indicators of personality within the design. For example, a wobble or a bounce conveys a different message to a snap or perhaps a fade.
The accents, space and rhythm
Designing haptics is a lot like writing music. The spaces in between ‘notes’ are as important as the notes themselves. Pauses create tension. The rhythm of beats is the underlying sets the tone of the message. Accents can bring attention to tiny moments.
Today there aren’t the same amount of conventions as we see in UI design and there aren’t the same pre-existing constructs that guide voice interactions, but there are a few basic patterns emerging from hardware designers.
- Descending patterns often signifies failure
- Ascending patterns often signifies success
- Flat, repeating patterns denote progress
Key design decisions
When designing haptic feedback you have three key areas to play in.
Like a knock on your door, small, fast beats feel urgent. Long pauses create tension. Setting the appropriate pace is key.
Long beats create instensity, short bursts that increase in length create rising intensity. Consistant beats create a calmer response.
Clusters of beats are create a less threatening buzz effect as opposed to heavy beats — these are often described as ‘sharper’ and demand attention.
Calm technology principles are vital
Much like designing sounds for UIs, haptics can be distracting. They are an intimate interaction as they engage your sense of touch. Being overly keen to buzz on people’s skin is delicate balance to strike. The principles of calm technology should be carefully adhered to.
You can do very basic prototyping in iOS by creating custom haptics, within the sounds/haptics settings. It’s a clunky method, but allows you to test simple ideas on devices.
For more advanced users you can use Vibration app.
Warning: Choose a vibration app carefully, when using a work device or connection. There are lots of vibrator products in the app store! 😳