The fascinating way blind designer Simon Dogger is able to feel the emotions of others

The Design Indaba speaker began his 2018 Design Talk by giving the audience a listen into the life of a visually impaired designer.

Close your eyes, listen and, for a moment, experience the world of sound and sense designer Simon Dogger. He began by giving the audience a listen into the life of a blind creative.

After losing his sight to an illness over six years ago, Dogger was inspired to create a device that bridged the gap between his purpose and his loss.

While there is beauty in simply listening, the device he created called the Emotion Whisperer uses technology to add a sometimes overlooked dimension to human communication: facial expression.

Connected to a smartphone and a small, round handheld device, the camera mounted on his glasses picks up the tell-tale signs of emotion on the face of the person he’s talking to.

It then feeds that information to the handheld device, which lets off a series of telling vibrations to let Dogger know whether his conversation partner is smiling, frowning and even deeply interested.

It’s the simple, basis of communication that you wouldn’t know you needed until it was gone. Not only do we want to know what people are feeling, we also want and need to respond to the way they feel.

The most beautiful thing, Dogger explains, is looking into the eyes of a loved one and not only looking, but understanding each other.

“Imagine when you walk out that door, you will never be able to see that person ever again?” he asks, adding that this is what the Emotion Whisperer seeks to address in the lives of the visually impaired.

In technical terms, the device translates visual signals into haptic feedback. The software is able to recognise not only a range of basic emotions but also the intensity level. The handheld product then translates the data into a number of dynamic vibrations.

Dogger, thanks to the device, can now feel a little bit of happiness in his conversation partner right at the tip of his index finger and if someone is very angry, Dogger feels it in the middle part of his index finger.

“I’m actually able to feel somebody smile,” he explains.

Dogger, a graduate of Design Academy Eindhoven, is also the designer behind medical jewellery, a line of medical equipment that removes the stigma of illness by adding a level of aesthetic beauty to medical devices, and Mood Colours, a communication tool that translates your emotion into colour.

More from the Design Indaba Conference 2018: 

How the Vula app is revolutionising the South African healthcare system

A small Kenyan start-up is disrupting the way the internet works

Sunu Gonera on finding his voice, afrofuturism and making heroes out of ordinary people