Social camouflage: A survey of 143 students of their preference for assistive technology cutlery and the visual mechanisms being influenced

Camouflage has been used extensively in modern military applications for over one hundred years. However, social camouflage has been used by artists and designers for even longer within clothing, body-worn accessories and more recently automotive and product design. Most practising designers learn this tacit heuristic through trial and error or passed on through master-student experience. This paper will provide the theoretical principles behind the heuristic and validate their application through evidence from different sources. A series of photographs was compiled of seven commercially available cutlery for people with limited grip strength or mobility in their hands that included a set that embodied the principles of social camouflage. The optimum shapes for grip in these sets highlights their unconventional shape, making them often less desirable to use in public. A survey of preferences for a range of cutlery was completed with 143 students using a semantic differential (SD) scale, with ‘least medical’ and ‘most medical’ as the polar nouns. A sample of eight students, four male, four females, completed the survey again using computer screen-based eye tracking. The areas of interest and the order of movement of fixations were noted. The SD scale order placed the perception of the social camouflaged cutlery as more medical than desirable in contradiction to current sales of the product. Eye tracking highlighted that students followed the outline of the highest contrast visual elements when viewing the socially camouflaged cutlery; being drawn away from the outline of the actual shape. In all others, the outline profile was prominent.