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/ Button Pushers


OCAD University

Mentor: Kate Hartman


Manisha Laroia


2 weeks | 2020


Adafruit Circuit Playground Express | Handmade Textile wearables | Processing | Arduino IDE


A textile wearable-interaction designed around ‘social buttons'[1] and social-media behaviours using DIY textile sensors, to entice the users to engage in real-world interactions with the instant gratification of social media clicks accumulation through sound and visual feedback. Through this social experiment I am exploring the question, ‘What is the impact of social media interactions on real-world interactions?'


The project is more of a social experiment and an exploration of material and techniques used to build textile based sensors and it’s play with our bodies. Inspired by Benjamin Bratton’s concept of The Stack, a reading I have taken up in my Critical Theory classes, I wanted to delve into his concept of how technologies today are intertwined in all aspects of the world’s being and these are developing  their own sovereignty. In reference to the ‘The Interface’ layer of his proposed Stack model, Bratton highlights that today, We are a species of  ‘Button Pushers’. Take this visual of the button pushers with a play on the colloquial phrase ‘push (or press) someone’s buttons’ I designed the interactions.

We are a species of 'Button Pushers.'

- Benjamin Bratton



What is the impact of social media interactions on real-world interactions?


The ‘social’ aspect of the interaction here focuses on encouraging and promoting co-located social interaction to facilitate prosocial behavior: it is an interactional approach to sociality and accompanying emotions and an experiential approach to technology design (Dagan et al.).

Using the ‘Design Framework For Social Wearables’, social affordances were articulated through:

  • keeping the visual look and form of the buttons as switches and also locating these on the body parts where associated physical gestures lead to touch i.e. social signaling and social appropriateness

  • spectator sensitivity, with sound feedback like the ones similar to social media button clicks and the output of like or icon count accumulated shown on the screen

  • shaping of proxemics to reduce interpersonal distance in prosocial ways, such that participants interact ny patting, poking or hugging which in turn activates the sensors.

  • Supporting individualized performances and social flexibility i.e. not forcing any of the interactions but keeping them as apart of a everyday worn shrug and using fabric textures to make the social buttons attached to the shrug like cloth patches are attached on denim jackets.


I took inspiration from other projects involving social buttons (electronic switches or buttons that are activated through social interaction of the participants) and inference my observation of how people interact with each other to bring out three body-body interactions and link them to social media interactions, thus exploring an interaction in social-media bubble. Here are some of the projects that inspired my concept: Maggie Orth’s Essential Dimmers  (2006-2009); LED jackets by Barbara Layne;Power me up, a project from the Digital Futures Playshop [1]; Pins collective and the Smiirl -follower counter.

push button definition.png


The experiment was designed such that it would require 2 or more participants, where one or more participants adorn a garment with the designed social buttons on them. I decided to have these buttons have the face of different social media icons such as the Like, Poke, Love.

The impact of these words has so drastically changed and they have lesser effect in conversations in the real-world as we are constantly clicking and sending likes and pokes on our social media accounts. It is becoming easier for us to message, or send a emoticon through our phones to one another rather than meet in the real world to talk and share.

gesture table.jpg


I also took into account the feedback that one gets while using social media. These are essential in providing the instant gratification that we gather, the dopamine rush as some call it [4]. These are:

  • the visual feedback in the form of the emoticons, the now GIF ones too

  • the sound feedback as a playful tone when a emoticon button is clicked

  • the accumulation of these in number and quantity in one’s profile


So, when I designed the social buttons to be put on a garment, I used these signifiers of social media interaction in the real-world interaction.I added

  • a two-tone sound that played each the textile button was interacted with,

  • visual icons through serial communication to Processing for a screen display (could be a projection or a small screen badge),

  • and in the Processing outcome , a rapid visual stacking of these emoticons to indicate the large numbers we chases on social media.

Switches & Buttons
Based on the bodily gestures, I placed three buttons on the garment. One on the shoulder, one on the side of the upper arm, and one on the chest. The switches on the shoulder and the side arm were made Capacitative as there would be a natural hand based interaction involved like a pat, shrug, pinch or poke.The button on the chest was made as a Velostat- pressure sensor as it would be naturally pressed when the participants hugged or embraced each other to indicate a strong likeness.


The making process started with sketching and observing people’s interactions. It was important to observe the details of the physical interactions to able to draw an analogy between the real world interactions and the virtual social media interactions. Through sketching and paper-prototype testing, I narrowed down the three interactions of POKE, LIKE and LOVE. Using this, I design the icons for that would go on the physical switch.


The choice of material (squishy, soft) like felt and wool and the choice of cutting out the actual emoticon shapes was to induce the users to want to touch and engage with the buttons. It was deliberate affordance created. The position and choice of the type of switches was also instrumental in adding to the affordance for interactions. On the code end, I made small test version of the switches to execute the code in Arduino IDE and create the serial communication link with Processing for the visual output.


Once the switches were designed and created, I started testing them with the code to understand the different resistance, thresholds and behaviours it shows based on how the connections are made. The final step was assembly, that is the stitching of the buttons on a garment, the simultaneously code testing and ensuring the setup was rugged enough for a demo. The following circuit was used to stitch the board along with all the connections on the garment.


Fine tuning the sensor behaviour in Arduino IDE.

Showing the data point tracking without the video capture.


A very interesting finding in the process of making the social buttons was the ‘self-interactions’ that it could be used for. Interacting with the button while testing, I ended up hugging myself, patting myself and poking myself and wondered if this could also serve as interactions for self-comforting. I then added these in the video documentation to show the various possibilities.


For future scope of the project, I would want to test this with a group of people to observe their reactions and document any findings or feelings the interactions induce. While making the wearable the sensitivity of sensors needs to be kept in mind, with testing and modification sin the physical interface and the code as one makes it.


The making process required a critical attention to detail like in the cutting, sticking, stitching and the use of the conductive materials in designing the circuit. (P.S. Interesting, I did not use Instagram or Facebook throughout the week while designing the project.)

The Project code is available on Github.



Bratton, Ben. The Stack “Interface Layer” & “Platform and Stack, Model and Machine”. MIT Press. 2016.

Dagan, Ella, et al. “Design Framework for Social Wearables.” Proceedings of the 2019 on Designing Interactive Systems Conference  – DIS ’19, ACM Press, 2019, pp. 1001–15. (Crossref), doi:10.1145/3322276.3322291.

Hartman, Kate, Make: Wearable Electronics, Maker Media, 2014.

Orth, Maggie. “Adventures in Electronic Textiles.” Textile Messages: Dispatches from the World of E‐Textiles and Education, edited by Leah Buechley, Kylie Peppler, Michael Eisenberg, & Yasmin Kafai, Peter Lang, 2013, p. 197‐213.

Robertson, Reece. “Why You’re Addicted to Social Media — Dopamine, Technology, and Inequality.” Medium. 2017. <>

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