feely testing Cathy Barnes (centre)
shows volunteers how the tests are run in
the new SRIF-funded human factor laboratories,
recently opened in mechanical engineering
makes things feel good to touch? Researchers
in mechanical engineering are trying to define
the science behind our senses, to help manufacturers
to develop products that we cant wait
to pick off the shelves.
Lead researcher Dr Cathy Barnes said: Products
are packaged for safety, hygiene, to ensure
they will last and to make a product stand
out amongst its competitors. But packaging
could also be used to give the consumer added
value, to make the product pleasurable to
use and touch.
The researchers have adapted a Japanese design
system called Kansei engineering, used by
companies such as Mazda, to gauge how consumers
will respond to the look of a product. In
Leeds, its being used for another of
our senses touch.
One technique within Kansei breaks down a
product into different aspects and asks consumers
to score each of them individually against
a set of adjectives. The characteristics which
score the highest are brought together to
build up the highest scoring whole.
carrying out similar experiments, but are
asking volunteers to grade different surfaces
only by touch, said Dr Barnes. Items
are placed inside boxes to ensure that visual
input has no impact on the outcome.
With the same samples, she is also measuring
engineering characteristics such as slip factor,
thermal properties and load deflection
how far you can press the surface in or how
hard or soft it is. The results will be a
valuable resource for all kinds of companies,
allowing them to determine exactly what engineering
properties are required to create a surface
with the sensory properties most suited to
The research is funded through the Faraday
partnership, which links packaging companies
with academic expertise.