Designing Communication Devices for Long Distance Dating Relationships

  • Daniel Gooch

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis investigates the design and use of communication technologies to support long distance dating relationships (LDDRs). We focus on using co-located behaviours that hold special relational meaning as the metaphor behind the design of devices to mediate between separated partners. Social Presence is used as the main theoretical construct through which support for LDDRs is addressed. Social Presence is a phenomenological concept which refers to “the degree of salience of the other person in the interaction and the consequent salience of the interpersonal relationship” [Short et al., 1976, p. 65]. An additional concept, Closeness, is also brought in to the design problem to account for the supportive role of communication technologies between moments of synchronous contact.This thesis proposes three main arguments. The first is that individual acts of communication, through feelings of Social Presence, have an impact on a couple’s feelings of Closeness towards one another. We explore possible connections between Social Presence and Closeness through a diary study. The results of the diary study also establish that the selection of communication media impacts feelings of Social Presence.Our second argument is that a number of design facets, explored throughout the thesis, could enhance the design of communication technologies for LDDRs by increasing feelings of Social Presence. An analysis of current literature informs the development of seven prototype devices based on hand-holding, hugging, sharing notes and pillow talk. Two interview studies explore people’s reactions to these devices. The findings from these studies are integrated into a design space which describes some of the design decisions that should be considered when creating behaviour-based devices which aim to support LDDRs.Our third argument is that devices based on co-located behaviours support LDDRs through engendering high levels of SP. This is investigated through five case studies using the devices we previously developed, showing that three of our devices are associated with particularly high levels of SP. They also provide insights about the design space facets, as realised in the devices, through using the devices within couples’ existing communication routines.The thesis concludes with a discussion of how the results of these studies are of relevance to researchers interested in supporting long distance dating relationships. Our investigation into Social Presence provides two main contributions; firstly it offers an understanding of how various factors (including relationship type and distance) affect feelings of SP. Secondly, it demonstrates that increasing feelings of Social Presence can have a longer-term impact on LDDRs through increasing their feelings of Closeness towards one another. This suggests that SP is suitable concept to try and support through the design of communication technologies.In addition to informing our discussion of our design space, the case studies within this thesis highlight that devices based on co-located behaviours can help support LDDRs. Given the dearth of devices based on this metaphor, we suggest that other researchers may be interested in extending these findings by exploring other behavioural metaphors.The design space proposed within this thesis offers two main contributions. Firstly, designers can use the design space to foster innovation when creating new designs. Design spaces result in a descriptive and exploratory tool for designers creating new innovations. Secondly, the comprehensive consideration of the various dimensions, especially regarding our consideration of existing communication technologies, provides researchers with a novel design-centric view over the state of the art.
Date of Award4 Feb 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorLeon Watts (Supervisor) & Stephen Payne (Advisor)


  • Social Presence
  • Long Distance Dating Relationships
  • Computer Mediated Communication

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