Augmenting Appearance with Wearable Technology: Open-ended Practices-oriented Design for Adornment and Identity as Routes to Adoption

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Adornment, as a practice that expresses personality through appearance alterations based on clothing and other embellishments, is fundamental to all cultures. Hence, the social function of 'wearables' exemplifies a core application of technology. In the last two decades, advancements in wearable and ubiquitous computing have yielded novel forms of augmenting humans' appearance and face-to-face social interactions, ranging from smart clothing/accessories to bodily and augmented-reality-based modifications. Yet, notwithstanding its potential to drastically alter our social lives, the adoption of wearable technology has been limited to primarily health-related applications. Studies of 'social wearables' and expressive technologies have revealed barriers to adoption related to social acceptability and identity conflicts. Though recent efforts have led to guidelines and frameworks, the challenges of designing to overcome those hindrances remain. Conceptualising wearable technologies for appearance augmentation in terms of the social practice of augmented adornment, this doctoral research investigated how augmented adornment shapes social practices and identities. Utilising generative design research, it identified design guidelines that support the adoption of interactive expressive wearable technologies. Following an approach wherein the investigation and design process are centred on the practice, not the user, the work drew together ethnographic fieldwork, co-creative design, and open-ended technological interventions. The dissertation presents three case studies of employing practices-oriented design to investigate social practices of adornment in situ in Finland: an exploratory case study considering a zoomorphic accessory for eliciting social touch; an exploratory study examining opportunities for displaying personal sketches on one's clothing in urban public spaces; and an extensive investigation, conducted over a two-year span, of the striking tradition of Finnish university students wearing and adorning boiler suits. All three field studies revealed ways in which the meanings of a personal-identity-connected adornment practice form a crucial aspect of augmenting appearance, with the final study demonstrating an especially vivid interplay between embracing local traditions and standing out through individualistic adornments – the students linked their novel practices of augmented adorning to an existing digital practice, e.g. memeing. The findings exemplify an open-ended, dialogue-based perspective and a practices-oriented approach for generating further intermediate design knowledge. As a first milestone, the work presents a strong concept for design called Memetic Expression. By situating augmented adornment in context as a social practice, the results should assist designers in embedding social wearables in people's lives. The design approaches presented offer assistance in working through conflicts that might arise by merging digital practices with adornment and helping pinpoint routes to adoption.
Translated title of the contributionAugmenting Appearance with Wearable Technology - Open-ended Practices-oriented Design for Adornment and Identity as Routes to Adoption
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Nieminen, Marko, Supervising Professor
  • Keinonen, Turkka, Supervising Professor
  • Salovaara, Antti, Thesis Advisor
  • Mekler, Elisa D., Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-64-1495-9
Electronic ISBNs978-952-64-1496-6
Publication statusPublished - 2023
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • wearable computing
  • design
  • social interaction


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