A.R.E.|POPAI Economic Advisor April 2016
June 15, 2016
The E-Motional Economy
September 20, 2016

Designers are drawing on patterns created by brain waves, movement tracking, and biometrics to create a visual lexicon for communicating emotions. The rise of a holistic approach to health has made consumers more attuned to the inner workings of the brain and body. Brands are catering to this increased awareness with innovative communications and products.

Photo: iStock/Jezperklauzen

Photo: iStock/Jezperklauzen

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The next-generation biometrics market is expected to reach $24.4 billion by 2020, growing at a CAGR of 17.9% between 2015 and 2020, according to a recent report by research firm MarketsandMarkets. And technology consulting firm Frost & Sullivan forecasts that 471 million people worldwide will be using a smartphone equipped with biometric technology in 2017, compared with 43 million in 2013.

This will have a significant impact on retail. In fact, 25% of U.K. retailers are using facial recognition technology to monitor customer activities in-store, according to a study by Computing magazine. The report also notes that 59% of fashion retailers are already deploying the technology, while 46% are using facial recognition for security purposes.



Designers are beginning to translate the patterns created by human brain waves, biometric measurements, and movement tracking into physical objects and environments. They’re combining science with intuitive mark-making to create a subtle and expressive aesthetic.

Rather than taking a literal approach, they are combining science with spontaneous mark-making to create a subtle and expressive aesthetic. “We need to push and stretch the visual language to capture the complexity of our emotions rather than constantly try to categorize and simplify it,” says Sophie Howarth, founder of Department Store for the Mind.

  • Motion-Morphic. Muscle movements and footprints are informing the construction of materials used for garment and footwear production. Working in sync with the body, the designs function as next-generation performance textiles. Sportswear brands Adidas and New Balance are at the forefront of this direction. Both have unveiled prototypes of trainers with 3D-printed midsoles tailored to the wearer’s footprint and foot pressure points. The complex structure of the sole combines organic curves with delicate latticework.

Designer Jessica Smarsh has used machines to create textiles that appear handmade. She recorded the intensity and pace of individuals’ muscle movements, translating them into patterns for industrial looms. The elasticity of muscle fiber and its ability to contract and relax is reflected in the warp and weft of the weave. “I was interested in the relationship between muscle fibers and textile fibers, and the result that movement had on the constriction of each,” explains Smarsh.

Garments worn by dancers in the theatrical work Gravity Fatigue also examine this relationship. Fashion designer Hussein Chalayan worked with choreographer Damien Jalet to create costumes that would direct the dancers’ moves. “I wanted the garments to become the grammar for the movement,” he says.

  • Emo Haptics. In product manufacturing, designers are experimenting with textures and finishes to imbue surfaces with emotive qualities and communicate feelings through haptic interaction. Experimental designer Bart Hesscaptured the essence of the grotesque in a textile installation for the Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Étienne 2015. The artist combined latex sheeting with liquid latex to achieve a veiny texture and draped the material into imposing columns. The texture of the pieces evokes connotations with flesh and muscles, creating an extremely intimate and disturbing interaction.

Students from the University of Art and Design Offenbach examined the potential for applying emotive haptics in the automotive industry through interactive surfaces designed in collaboration with BMW. The textured, responsive surfaces enable intuitive communication between car and driver.

Brazilian designer Guto Requena used emotional data to transform love stories into tangible objects. Participants of The Love Story wore sensors that tracked their voice, heartbeat, sweat, and brain waves as they recounted a personal love story. The algorithms were transformed into physical objects using parametric software and a 3D printer. The final pieces have fibrous, intricate surfaces reflecting the complexity of emotional data.

  • Biometric Spaces. Sports brands continue to experiment with measuring biometric responses to exercise and translate the data into dark and dynamic environments. Working for Nike, London-based studio FIELDcreated an interactive visual installation that responded to a runner’s movements. The space featured a treadmill equipped with Microsoft Kinect sensors that collected information on the runner’s tempo, speed, and colors. The data was combined with software to generate visuals including a constant flow of vibrant digital brushstrokes that evoked the flow of blood around the body.

The #FeelWimbledon campaign by Jaguar measured the emotional response of spectators during a game via biometric cuffs. Readings presented on a digital platform showed the highs and lows felt by the crowd. And high-end gym chain Equinox uses gamified analytics to visualize the performance of people taking on its immersive cycling experience, The Pursuit. Individual biometric readings are translated into dynamic visuals that light up the dark, moody space.

  • Mind Marks. Designers are capturing the complexity of human emotions through a subtle aesthetic that draws on brain-wave patterns and the expressive mark-making of automatic drawing. Disturbance, a Visual Display of Migraine Auraby Italian graphic designer Francesca Magliani, attempts to communicate the physical and mental symptoms of the disease. “It was important for me to create a tool for those who don’t suffer from migraines to help them imagine and understand these sensations,” she explains. The project features a publication that categorizes the disturbances reported by sufferers and a series of posters that represent the sensations experienced during an attack.

Simple mark-making techniques were used for Human States of Mind, an artwork created for Department Store for the Mind. “I didn’t want to just illustrate the mood. I wanted to feel it,” says Howarth. “We started experimenting with lines to see how emotions could guide a pen on paper.” The result is a compelling visual typology that captures the complexity of human emotions.

Fashion brand Abstract_ uses an algorithm that analyzes the words and facial expressions of an individual to translate their emotions into a bespoke pattern.


Although the realm of neuroscience and biometrics may seem daunting, a few simple guidelines can help retailers capture the attention and imagination of consumers’ brains to enhance their journey with brands:

  1. Tune in. Draw inspiration from brain waves and biometric measurements to capture the imagination of consumers who are tracking the inner workings of the body and mind.
  2. Celebrate complexity. Use simple mark-making techniques to capture the wide spectrum of human emotions.
  3. Sync up. Draw on muscle movements and the natural rhythms in exercise to create garments that work in sync with the body.
  4. Objectify emotions. Work with textures and finishes to create surfaces with emotive qualities that evoke diverse feelings.
  5. Create biometric art. Measure emotional and physical responses to exercise and display them to create dynamic environments.

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