In our latest edition of emerging technologies, we’ll be covering hapnotic feedback, not to be confused with haptic feedback (although they're closely related). You might have heard of the term hapnotic feedback — it was all the rage about 12 months ago when it first came on the scene, making it another up and coming web design trend.

Hapnotic feedback builds upon haptic feedback — which is, in essence, the vibrations you feel on your iPhone or another electronic device when you use the touchscreen to try and log in, but screw up the numbers.

If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry, we’re going to break down exactly what it is, why it’s an important technology and how designers can use it.

Hapnotic and Haptic Feedback

Understanding Hapnotic Feedback

Firstly, let’s take a step back and look at where the phrase “hapnotic feedback” comes from. It’s a combination of the term “haptic feedback” and the word “hypnotic.”

Does this mean we’re about to try and hypnotize you into thinking that hapnotic feedback is the next big thing? Not really, but it’s definitely worth some time to understand the principles of the concept and how you might be able to use it as a designer.

Let’s take a deeper look at each of the terms mentioned.

What Is Haptic Feedback?

Haptic feedback can be defined as the “use of the sense of touch in a user interface design to provide information to an end user.” Haptic feedback is commonly found on smartphones and tablet, and other handheld electronic devices like video game controllers and arcade joysticks — you receive forms of haptic feedback every day on your iPhone and Android devices.

For example, when you use your mobile phone or other devices like tablets and laptops, you will notice that based on the actions you take you might receive a vibration to signify a response to your taken action. This can include things like Near-field communication (NFC) payments — if you attempt to pay for your groceries with Apple Pay on your iPhone and it doesn’t work you’ll receive quite a long, heavy vibration.

As a user, over time you recognize that this signals that there has been an error, and without even having to look at the screen you know the payment hasn’t been accepted and you can try again.

Another example would be when you’re parking a car that has built-in sensors. When you reverse the car the parking sensors will tell you when you come within a certain distance of an object.

Rather than stopping there, the sensors will continue to let you know if you get closer to an object by varying the vibration strength or frequency. The closer your car gets to an object, the louder the beeping might get.

Haptic feedback has transformed the way we use a device such as iPhones and tablets — by allowing them to communicate and learn along with us.

How Designers Use Haptic Feedback And The Benefits

There is no shortage of ways that a designer can use haptic technology feedback. Excluding the two examples already mentioned, it can be applied to ultrasound scanning, video games, personal computing, virtual reality and more. As a technology it is incredibly useful for enhancing a user’s experience — that alone is a key reason why a designer should consider haptic feedback when working on the UX/UI of a commercial product.

The sense of touch conveys rich and detailed information, e.g., the mobile device example from earlier. Plus, when combined with other senses, touch dramatically increases the amount of information that the brain receives. As a consequence, this increase in information reduces user error, and thus, the time taken to complete a task is reduced.

As a designer, minimizing the errors and difficulties that a user encounters is the utmost priority, and haptic feedback gives you the opportunity to create a frictionless UX design.

Previous Applications Of Haptic Feedback

The use of haptic technology began in the 1950s, but it became more popular and widely used in the 1970s when it was integrated into video games — think classic arcade and racing games.

Sega’s Moto-Cross was the first game to integrate haptic feedback technology. This game would use haptic feedback to cause the handlebars to vibrate when the rider came in contact with another vehicle or other obstacle.

Earthshaker! Later became the first pinball machine to incorporate haptic technology in the 1980s.

From there, haptic technology moved into other video games, becoming popular with in-home video games. Remember playing Mario Kart or other Nintendo 64 games? That remote would vibrate like crazy!

Haptic feedback has come a long way since its use in video games (though it is still widely used in this arena). But not it has moved to mobile devices and laptops — where its importance in design, UX and other areas is critical for success.

Hypnosis And How It Relates To Design

The second key element to hapnotic feedback, after haptic feedback, is the hypnotic aspect of the technology. Just to be clear, hypnosis relates to “the induction of a state of consciousness in which a person apparently loses the power of voluntary action and is highly responsive to suggestion or direction.”

With that in mind, let’s consider the way in which hypnotic techniques are commonly used in design and messaging. There are particular words that carry with them a deeper meaning than you might suspect, especially when relating to UX design and storytelling.

For example, the word “imagine” is an effective way to disconnect a user from reality by encouraging them to create their own reality using their creativity. This is because we don’t see imagination as a “real” task. Instead, we consider it a mind-game that’s enjoyable — that acts as a distraction from real life.

By asking your user to imagine something, you bypass that critical part that throws up objections — a crucial step in achieving hypnosis. Other words to consider are “because” and “you,” both of which carry with them their own hypnotic influence.

So, how do hypnosis and the term haptic feedback come together to form hapnotic feedback?

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What Is Hapnotic Feedback?

As mentioned, hapnotic feedback is a blend of both hypnotic activity and haptic feedback. The subtle use of hypnotic activity occurs when the user is persuaded to take an action that they might not normally take.

For example, imagine that you’re browsing through your favorite online clothing store in search of a new pair of shoes. You’ve already tried on a few options in-store, so you’re confident in your size, but you’re looking at some different colors or styles.

Nothing is particularly catching your eye, but upon viewing the same pair of shoes for the second time you receive a subtle vibration and the “save this for later” button is highlighted. Rather than abandoning the item you save it and do the same for two other items.

Then, just as you’re about to leave the site, you receive another, heavier vibration — it’s an alert offering you 10 percent off your “saved items” for the next 24 hours.

IPhone Hapnotic Haptic Feedback

Why Is Hapnotic Feedback Important For Designers?

Hapnotic feedback is the type of technology that provides designers and businesses with the opportunity to influence and modify customer behaviors. While that might sound intrusive, and slightly scary from a user’s perspective, it can actually be like having a permanent shop assistant guiding your choices while you shop online.

Referring back to the shoe shopping example. Can you imagine the benefit of having constant, subtle advice that not only points you in the direction of styles and colors you might prefer but also alerts you of new products, discounts and other items you might like or need? It would certainly take the pain away from some of the lesser enjoyable sides to online shopping.

The importance of hapnotic feedback extends into the metrics that a designer’s work may be measured on as well. Including:

  • Conversion rates
    • Using vibrations, sensations and alerts to encourage users to sign-up to newsletters, buy discounted products or follow social media channels
  • Improve customer retention rates
    • Using vibrations, sensations and alerts to prompt returning users to make additional purchases, or encourage previous customers to return
  • Decreasing bounce rates
    • Using vibrations, sensations and alerts to encourage users to remain on-site rather than leaving immediately if they couldn’t find what they were looking for without browsing further.

How Does Hapnotic Feedback Compare To Tactile Feedback?

In order to compare hapnotic to tactile, it helps to revisit haptic feedback. Tactile feedback is essentially a type of haptic feedback, the other type being kinesthetic. At a high-level, they can be summarized as the following:

  • Kinesthetic: The things you feel from the sensors in your muscles, joints and tendons.
    • For example, imagine holding a cup of coffee in your hand. It is kinesthetic feedback that tells your brain what size the cup is, how heavy it is and how you’re holding it relative to your body. Is it comfortable? Is it unstable?
  • Tactile: The things you feel in your 'fingers'.
    • For example, when you are using a keyboard the sensors in your fingers allow your brain to feel things like pressure, touch and texture. Do I need to use more pressure to hit the key? Can I feel the letter embedded in the key?

In essence, hapnotic feedback is (tactile feedback + kinesthetic feedback) + hypnotic activity, and thus, tactile feedback is essentially the physical aspect of hapnotic feedback.

What’s The Relationship Between Haptic And Hapnotic Feedback And A Taptic Engine?

Apple is a company that is paving the future for haptic and hapnotic feedback integration. Most recently, Apple introduced a taptic engine into its iPhone 7 in order to understand and make use of haptic feedback received on the iPhone.

The term “Taptic Engine” comes from a combination of the words “tap” and “haptic feedback.” It was a phrase created by Apple to give meaning to feedback given by users on the iPhone, Apple Watch, iPads and MacBooks.

So essentially, the taptic engine is the way designers can give life, in the form of vibrations, to the feedback received.

What Does The Future Hold For Hapnotic Feedback?

If hapnotic feedback expands on the standard user interface by using tactile cues to subtly hypnotize users and modify their behaviors, then synesthetic feedback could be the future. As multi-sensory experiences become commonplace you can expect to see growth in this area.

The term synesthesia refers to the perceptual condition of mixed sensation. Simply put, a stimulus you experience through one sense, e.g., hearing, will elicit an experience in another sense, e.g., smell. For example, someone with synesthesia might hear a dog barking and all of a sudden smell the scent of vanilla or taste the flavor of honey.

Creatives are already implementing synesthetic feedback into their products, and Facebook’s Build 8 Research Lab is already building synesthetic feedback into their platform, converting language into haptic feedback vibrations.

“Through a series of electrodes, the company hopes its neural technology can reduce language to vibrations that can be read by a users’ skin. So far, this ability to “hear” with patterns of stimulation on the skin also seems much closer to a real consumer technology.”

By allowing users to “hear” language through synesthetic feedback on their skin, Facebook is in the process of creating a platform that will soon be able to influence and impact upon users like no other.

What’s it all mean?

Haptic and hapnotic feedback have been vital for shaping how we interact with content, and how designers use those interactions to create better designs and more advanced products. Haptic and hapnotic technology has revolutionized our experiences on our iPhones, computers and even with our favorite video games through tactile responses.

Who’d have thought a few, simple vibrations could transform our lives the way they do? And who would have thought, more than 50 years ago, that our sense of touch would be so vital for designers?

The world of design is always in flux, with new design trends paving the way forward and old staples falling by the wayside. But it seems that when it comes to how to transform our virtual environments, these hapnotic and haptic devices will continue to change how we interact with the world around us.

The future is still evolving, however. And there is no telling what this technology can do for us years into the future. But it’s obvious that this haptic and hapnotic technology is here to stay — and it’s just a tap or touch away.

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