In many project, ergonomists may find themselves in a situation where engineering teams create a breakthrough technology, without any well-defined use case. This situation is not the one preferred by the ergonomists where prospective ergonomics would rather aim at identifying needs at earlier stage in design projects before finding appropriate technologies (Brangier and Robert, 2012). The intervention described in this paper relates to a new haptic technology and our goal as ergonomists in the project is focused on the possible use cases. We are typically in a techno-push context. The technology considered is about reproducing textures. There are two main difficulties for this kind of technology when considering the use cases. The first one relates to the specificities of the haptic technologies and our ability to discuss on sense of touch. Literature shows that we have difficulties to discuss and that we miss vocabulary to describe our feelings with the sense of touch (Dagman et al., 2010; O’Sullivan and Chang, 2006; Obrist et al., 2013). The other difficulty is the interaction situation that is imposed by the technology. If one wants to feel a texture, he needs to touch the surface while having a lateral movement. The specificities of this interaction situation make it difficult to bring people discuss potential use cases while the context of use is so specific and limited.
In order to generate ideas of use cases two methodologies are used in the project. The first one is a classical focus group lead by expert designers. Here the creativity is based on the group discussion.
The second methodology starts from the technology. The aim is to ask testers of the prototype to reflect upon the possible appropriate use cases. In the context of a perception test of textures on the prototype, we recruited 20 participants to follow our ad hoc methodology. The methodology is in two stages:
– Just after the test, the participants have an interview where they are invited to describe the possible use cases they can identify or imagine. Then there is a recall of the specificities of texture rendering. At the end of the interview, the participants are invited to think about the technology for a couple of days and then have another interview.
– Two days later, the participants are once more contacted to provide possible new use cases.
As a conclusion we can say that both methodologies can be seen as complementary. The ad hoc methodology permitted to have more targeted uses and very specific niches were identified for use cases. The drawback of such methodology is that we miss the group dynamic we can find in focus groups.