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Primal Skin

How can we make emotions tangible?

Design Exploration 2016 | 3 months
Interactive Arts Society, IIT -Madras, Chennai, IN

Competition entry – Lexus Design Awards, 2017
Team: Tejasvin Srinivasan, Theertha Raj,  Haran Rajkumar, Deepti Zachariah

Skills: Human Centered Design, Material Engineering, Form Exploration, Qualitative Research (Interview)

Primal Skin is a performative material that willfully enhances or camouflages an individual’s emotional state upon stimulation by observing changes in physiology. Primal skin taps into the idea of creating a visual and haptic ‘expression’ of our primal senses. It is realized as a scarf in this project.

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The theme for the Lexus Design Awards 2017 was ‘YET’, a work which unifies two different fields/elements that at first seem incompatible. The idea was to create synergy between these elements or concepts to reveal unexpected yet amazing new possibilities. We decided to approach the concept ‘impalpable YET tangible’.

Upon ideating, we found the concept of Language very intriguing. The way it maps our impalpable thoughts, emotions and ideas to tangible sounds and words piqued our interest. Further research led us to exploring different ways how primal emotions are expressed. In the post-industrial society, we have become increasingly disconnected with our primal emotions and expressions. A scream, an involuntary primal response to a surprise or fearful stimulus, helps us express emotions. The feedback of hearing ourselves aids us in further connecting to our basic instincts. This motivated us to explore other ways to get in touch with primal senses and express them in a socially-acceptable manner.

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Interviews: We interviewed 15 people about communicating with others who do not speak the same language under various circumstances. Navigating through foreign lands, attempts at humor and teaching in a foreign language were some of the scenarios. The focus was on gaining insights form these scenarios where emotions and thoughts were conveyed when their abilities in certain languages were limited.

Pattern Identification: All the information gathered from the interviews was then put together and patterns were identified. ‘Basic sounds’, ‘Pointing towards pictures’, ‘Gestures relating to basic human activities’ were some of the patterns observed.

Design Statements: Based on the patterns found, 3 design statements were formed. One of which was ‘Search for a media which can satiate the primal senses like the same way a scream or crying out does’. Concepts were generated for all the design statements.


The concepts were inspired from nature. For example, the exposed frills of the frilled neck lizard when the lizard is displaying confrontational behavior, the breast shield feathers of the paradise bird and also the tail of a peacock for providing attractive display as part of mating rituals.




Primal Skin’s meshwork is based on a point cloud generated using an individual’s touch sensitivity.

The skin is fashioned with a shape-shifting electroactive polymer (EAP). It can function in two modes based on individual choice, one to enhance expression and another to camouflage it. It can function in a group or individually. It is a versatile material that can be transformed into many wearables.

The material changes its shape and color based on the user’s emotions by detecting physiological signals like heart rate variability and Galvanic skin conductance.

Different Modes of Primal Skin:











During an athlete's training, the Primal Skin can be used as a waistband to provide feedback and enhance concentration.

In case of unwanted advances in a nightclub by a stranger, the Primal Skin worn as a scarf can ward off potential threats.

Crowd cheering at a public event. Enhancing shared human experiences.



Collaborating with a team comprising a Graphic Designer, a Linguistics student and actors while being mentored by an Architect/Designer exposed me to a very diverse working culture. Following the Human-centered design approach rigorously under the expert guidance of Ms.Deepti Zachariah, the ideation sessions were extremely thought provoking and informative. I am particularly excited to see its scope as part of Live-performance technology.

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