Designing tactful objects for sensitive settings

A case study on families dealing with childhood cancer

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In the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), there is an increasing interest in designing for well-being. With this contribution, we introduce Tactful Objects as a design perspective on interactive artifacts that empower people in sensitive settings. We explore the concept of tactfulness by designing two interactive artifacts addressing the needs of families dealing with childhood cancer. The first, Mr.V, is an interactive dispenser to stimulate social activities in the family. The second, AscoltaMe, is a kind of walkie-talkie to enhance communication between family members. Eight families in treatment were invited to try out one of these artifacts at home. We report on how they perceived the objects’ impact on family life, how they used and appreciated the objects and how the objects embedded at home. The findings highlight that Tactful Objects enable people to act with respect for their vulnerabilities and circumstances by establishing partnerships and collaborations that are inviting and appropriate for the setting in which they are embedded. We then reflect on the contribution of the work for research in healthcare and design for other sensitive settings. We conclude by presenting the limitations of the study and provide directions for future work.