Joanna Berzowska shares her work

[gallery] Joanna Berzowska of XS Labs shares her recent (and beautifully inspiring) catalogue that talks about her practice, design research methods in wearable technology and illustrates some of her gorgeous projects. Thank you for sharing Joanna! For all you wearable technology designers, it is definitely worth a read.

Download the PDF here.

Here's what she has to say about it:

I founded XS Labs in 2002, in my first year at Concordia University, and positioned it as a design research studio with a focus on innovation in electronic textiles and reactive garments. My interest in this field, however, did not originate from weaving, fashion design, or even fiber arts. It emerged from a concern with the lack of softness in HCI (Human Computer Interaction) and the desire to explore a wider range of material properties in the development of physical interfaces.

While a student at the MIT Media Lab in the mid 1990’s, I was drawn to electronic textiles for their ability to conform to the human body and their potential for bringing softness to physical interfaces. The work I was conducting in HCI focused on tangible interaction and involved the manipulation of physical objects with the human hand. I anticipated that electronic textiles would allow us to expand the realm of physical interaction into a wearable context and to explore the boundaries of what I call “beyond the wrist” interaction.

While Mark Weiser’s prophetic vision of Ubiquitous Computing has largely become reality, and computing technology is truly receding into the background of our awareness, [1] our relationship to materiality and design practices needs to evolve. The research directions that shape the field of HCI are still too often predicated on traditional definitions of computers and their intended uses. They do not consider the broad range of computational expression, technologies, and materials available to designers today.

In recent history, a scientific revolution has been redefining our fundamental design methods. [2] Materials such as conductive fibers, active inks, photoelectrics, and shape–memory alloys promise to shape new design forms and new experiences that will redefine our relationship with materiality and with technology. [3] Our design philosophy at XS Labs focuses on the use of these transitive materials and technologies as fundamental design elements.

The projects at XS Labs often demonstrate a preoccupation with — and a resistance to — task–based, utilitarian definitions of functionality in HCI. Our definition of function simultaneously looks at the materiality and the magic of computing technologies; it incorporates the concepts of beauty and pleasure. We are particularly concerned with the exploration of interactive forms that emphasize the natural expressive qualities of transitive materials. We focus on the aesthetics of interaction, which compels us to interrogate and to re–contextualize the materials themselves. The interaction narratives function as entry points to question some of the fundamental assumptions we make about the technologies and the materials that we deploy in our designs.

A core component of our research at XS Labs involves the development of enabling technologies, methods, and materials — in the form of soft electronic circuits and composite fibers — as well as the exploration of the expressive potential of soft reactive structures. Many of our electronic textile innovations are informed by the technical and the cultural history of how textiles have been made for generations — weaving, stitching, embroidery, knitting, beading, or quilting — but use a range of materials with different electro–mechanical properties. We consider the soft, playful, and magical aspects of these materials, so as to better adapt to the contours of the human body and the complexities of human needs and desires. Our approach often engages subtle elements of the absurd, the perverse, and the transgressive. We construct narratives that involve dark humor and romanticism as a way to drive design innovation. These integrative approaches allow us to construct composite textiles with complex functionality and sophisticated behaviors.

Joanna Berzowska 2010

1. Weiser, Mark. “The Computer for the Twenty-First Century.” Scientific American Sept. 1991: 94-104. Print.

2. Addington, Michelle, and L. Daniel Schodek. Smart Materials and New Technologies for the Architecture and Design Professions, London: Elsevier, 2005. Print.

3. Coelho, Marcelo, Sajid Sadi, Pattie Maes, Neri Oxman, and Joanna Berzowska. Transitive Materials: Towards an Integrated Approach to Material Technology. Proc. of the 9th International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing. Innsbruck, Austria, 2007.

Sticky, Stiff and Itchy generate power


Continuing on the topic of alternative power harnessing, the latest exploration from Joanna Berzowska and the folks at Extra-Soft Labs is a series of power-generating garments titled Captain Electric. Sticky, Stiff and Itchy harness energy both passively and actively through the activity of fidgeting, fussing, stretching and pulling at our clothes.

"Using inductive generators, we convert kinetic energy from the human body into electric energy and store it within a power cell integrated into the garments. Rather than attempting to conceal the generators and their operation, we chose to overtly integrate them into the garment concept and design." (

Here's how Captain Electric describes each of the garments:

Sticky Sticky is a hooded leather dress that impedes natural body movement. The sleeves of the dress are tethered to hard shells on the chest and hips. This restriction forces the body to move in more pronounced and powerful motions, actively generating energy to fuel the dress. The accumulated power feeds a series of LEDs integrated in silicone forms sewn into the pocket, concealed from view.

Stiff Reminiscent of the posture caused by muscular stiffness, the silhouette of Stiff draws emphasis to the back and shoulders of the individual. As she pushes her back against the wall or experiences pressure on her back from another user, the energy generated activates an mp3 player and speaker integrated into the hood, which plays soothing and comforting (though often conflicting) messages.

Itchy Itchy’s tailored leather silhouette is decorated with large reconfigurable wool necklaces. The face is surrounded with layered structure, drawing attention to its features while also offering a sense of comfort and protection from other peoples’ gaze. The layering of necklaces is evocative of bulky wool turtlenecks and their itchiness compels the user to grasp them and move them back and forth on the body.

Read more on Captain Electric. Images from Captain Electric.

Joanna Berzowska writes a paper on electronic textiles

Wearable technology designer and researcher Joanna Berzowska wrote a paper that is a great introduction to smart textiles titled Electronic Textiles: Wearable Computers, Reactive Fashion, and Soft Computation (pdf).

Abstract  "Electronic textiles, also referred to as smart fabrics, are quite fashionable right now. Their close relationship with the field of computer wearables gives us many diverging research directions and possible definitions. On one end of the spectrum, there are pragmatic applications such as military research into interactive camouflage or textiles that can heal wounded soldiers. On the other end of the spectrum, work is being done by artists and designers in the area of reactive clothes: 'second skins' that can adapt to the environment and to the individual. Fashion, health, and telecommunication industries are also pursuing the vision of clothing that can express aspects of people’s personalities, needs, and desires or augment social dynamics through the use and display of aggregate social information."

Read the full pdf here. More papers by XLabs here.