User Experience for Elephants: Researching Interactive Enrichment through Design and Craft

French, Fiona (2021). User Experience for Elephants: Researching Interactive Enrichment through Design and Craft. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis explores the challenge for humans of designing and crafting interactive enrichment systems for elephants housed in captivity.

Captive elephants may have limited opportunity to express a full range of natural behaviours and therefore benefit from well-designed environmental enrichment. We asked whether technology could support the design and development of novel enrichment for elephants and investigated what kinds of technology-enabled systems would hold their interest. Crucially, these systems were designed to provide the elephants with opportunities to make and enact choices – giving them more control over what happened in their environment.

After researching wild elephant lifestyle and characteristics, our fieldwork started with an ethnographic study of captive elephants. We then followed an exploratory approach: Research through Design and Craft. Over several years, a range of interactive systems were crafted for elephants. Each device included embedded technology that enabled elephant interactions to be captured and mapped to associated system outputs. Elephants and their keepers were involved in this cyclical process, and the elephants’ reactions to the devices were noted and interpreted, giving rise to insights that informed the subsequent designs.

Analysis of the design and development of the enrichment systems revealed important interface attributes and design considerations that we describe in this document. Finally, we offer five contributions for the ACI community: (i) Research through Design and Craft methodology, which was developed and tested over several years; (ii) ZooJam workshops, which were organised with colleagues over three years; (iii) six key principles of interaction design for ACI development – consistency, differentiation, graduation, specificity, multiplicity and affordance; (iv) an exploration of More than Human Aesthetics focusing on performative aesthetics; (v) a prototype deck of Concept Craft Cards that share theoretical and practical topics with other designers and developers.

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