What if there were body sensors who would detect hair growth and give personalised feedback?

  • Course name: Experimental Materials: SKIN
  • Timeline: 8 weeks
  • Student: Birna Sísí Jóhannsdóttir
  • Mentors: Marie Vihmar & Kärt Ojavee

The starting point for my project was during the first week of february in Tallinn, Estonia. The assignment was to define skin for ourselves. During that period it was extremely cold, so cold that I have never experienced anything like it before. I started wondering how my skin is not capable of protecting me from basically freezing to death. We therefore seek for alternatives in clothing and in my case, most of them are derived from animals.

My essentials to survive the Estonian winter.

Human Byproducts?

As mentioned all of these things are byproducts of animals. This led me to think what would be the human byproducts and how do we perceive them ?

We are used to labels such as 100% merino wool.

What makes the body unique is the fact that it is so much more than just the material. The body is largely connected to the self. The body is the embodiment of the self and reflects it externally.

My focus was at this point very vague so I decided to narrow it down to solely the material human hair. What I found the most interesting about hair is the process of it. It grows under the skin and at that point its alive. As soon as it enters the social space it dies and then it becomes something that defines us. Hair can therefor be placed between nature. The inner biological body and the external social sphere.

With that being said the properties of it call for a much closer attention between the physical and social body. The hair is a representation of something. Its a symbol.

Experimenting with the material

I started to experiment with hair and mostly in the context of perception. How we perceive hair differently in different circumstances.

How does it affect our perception they way we organize hair?

Why does it matter how and where we place the hair ? How can the same material be seen as something desirable and beautiful but then on the other hand disgusting and unpleasant?

How does it affect our perception when the colour is more artifical? or if the hair is organized in loops?

We have very specific rules on how, what and where hair ought to be.

All in all I was always wondering with this question of normal and abnormal hairgrowth or disgust and non disgust, where are the boundaries and who created them and how come we kind of all agree on these rules?

While working on this course and trying to figure out my focus I was reading the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. In that book it said:

“Understanding humans is not about understanding their differences, it’s about understanding the intersubjective myths they share.”

This is kind of what summed up all my thoughts. We share a common myth on how hair ought to be and its intersubjective and therefor unexplainable. So basically we, humans are mythmakers.

We need to be in control

The experiments with the material itself were always focused more on the perception of it rather then the potential of the material itself. This led me to take a more speculative approach in my project. I started off with a STEEP analysis where I pinpointed the trends of the past and present when it comes to hair and haircare in order to speculate about the future.

There was a common thread in advertisements from the past and present. What I saw as a red thread was the urge for control. We want to control the behaviour of the hair.

Advertisements from different time periods.

What will we value in 2051?

I started to speculate about future scenarios and I imagined the year 2051. I imagined possible future target groups, activities, emerging technologies and human values in 2051. Based on my research I focused on the human value of control.

I formed my what if question which is….

What if there were body sensors who would detect hair growth and give personalised feedback?

The story of Rapunzel

Rapunzel is a startup company from the future. Founded in 2051 by ambitious individuals sharing the same goal of extending people’s ability to control oneself.

With the increasing usage of nano technology in the medical field, they thought of possibilities for bringing it into cosmetology. The new technology also helps with creating a more sustainable future since buying additional beauty products are no longer needed.

Screenshot of the webpage of Rapunzel.
Scrolling through Rapunzel’s webpage

How would it work?

A nano device is implanted with Rapunzel’s custom made tools. They are implanted into the blood stream and are then connected to a smart device of the users choice.

In the smart device the user can then control how they want the nano to behave. Whether it being to increase hair growth or decrease, lighten or darken. Whatever one wants.

An example of how one might control their armpit hair.

To conclude my research, the main thing I am trying to point out is what if…..eventually we will finally reach the point where we will gain a full control over our hairgrowth?

How will it affect our shared intersubjective myths about hair ?

Product Design student from Reykjavik