Virtual artwork fosters social connection during COVID-19

A collaborative project between Monash University’s Exertion Games Lab and PluginHUMAN, designed to keep people connected during the pandemic lockdown, has been honoured at Australia’s International Good Design Awards.

[ i miss your touch ] is a web platform that virtually connects two participants in separate locations by creating an online environment where they can co-create digital artwork in real-time using their movements. The project launched in March as a way to keep people connected following the introduction of COVID-19 lockdown and physical distancing measures.

The project has received a prestigious Good Design Award in the Social Impact category in recognition of the outstanding design and innovation of this platform.

Using live video streams from each participants’ webcams, [ i miss your touch ] generates a series of vibrant outlines and kaleidoscopic visuals based on the movements and interactions from each participant. This allows for two people to feel more connected through a creative medium in a shared digital environment.

[ i miss your touch ] was developed by PluginHUMAN, a multi-award-winning art duo led by Dr Betty Sargeant and Justin Dwyer, which has been working with Monash University’s Exertion Games Lab since 2013, collaborating on immersive art installations which place the audience at the centre of the experience.

“[ i miss your touch ] was created with the aim of offering a solution for many people feeling isolated and lonely as a result of COVID-19. By intertwining technology and art in a virtual environment, we’re able to improve people’s lives by connecting them with their loved ones and addressing the social needs currently experienced by our society. We’re very proud that our creation has been recognised with the highest honour for design and innovation with this recent award,” said Dr Sargeant.

Professor Florian ‘Floyd’ Mueller, Director of the Exertion Games Lab in Monash University’s Faculty of Information Technology (IT), says the partnership between PluginHUMAN has enabled them to develop innovative technology that fosters connection and creativity.

“We’ve had a long standing partnership with PluginHUMAN and we’re excited to take this partnership to the next level by connecting people through digital art during what is a very difficult time for people living in lockdown as a result of COVID-19,” Professor Mueller said.

“The technical expertise from the Exertion Games Lab coupled with the creative minds of both Betty and Justin have allowed us to build experiences that go beyond the traditional constructs of art and technology.”

The annual Good Design Awards is Australia’s oldest and most prestigious international Awards, celebrating the best new products and services on the Australian market, excellence in architectural design, engineering, fashion, digital and communication design, design strategy, social impact design and young designers.

The Good Design Awards jury praised [ i miss your touch ], commenting: “Although developed in the context of pandemic isolation, this initiative has the potential to be helpful for anyone who finds themselves dislocated. A good solution to a real challenge of social isolation.”

Dr Brandon Gien, CEO of Good Design Australia said: “Receiving a Good Design Award is a significant achievement given the very high calibre and record number of entries received in 2020.”

The 2020 Good Design Awards attracted a record number of submissions with an astonishing 835 design projects evaluated in this year’s international design awards.