Designing with the Senses Text I

As a designer or architect, we must understand who the user is and then what is the program, or what is to be designed before we begin the sensory design. It would be good to have an interview with the client or a sample user to have a perspective and wants. Once this is understood, the designer must provide a thesis, theme, or parti. This will define how the project will be designed for the user. There are so many ways a single design can be completed, that the architect and designer must determine the constraints and ways to measure the quality and effectiveness of the design. Once these items are determined, the senses can be chosen.

Having the program, knowledge of the user, and the thesis, theme, et cetera, we must ask how the user will experience the idea of the project? What is experience, but the physical interaction with the environment, and this physical interaction is through the use of the senses. Of course, we can rely on the reliable sense of vision, but we should look beyond vision to find ways to express the main idea of the project. Hearing, Touch, Smell, Taste, and Vision: which senses are best to convey the point of the design? Each sense provides information and experience in a different way, and it is important for the designer and architect to know the differences between each of the senses.

When designing, do not start with the visual. The sense of vision is constantly being used, and it is too heavily used in design. In fact, for a strong sensory experience, the visual should be the last sense to be reviewed and designed for. Instead, review the thesis, then program and user, and select a typically secondary sense, such as hearing or touch, or to make an especially innovative experience, start with smell or taste, in order to begin the design.

Each sense has its advantages, and each one is different, and they are not interchangeable. In this way, use the information from or activation of one sense for only that sense–do not use the same meaning or experience for multiple senses, only one. This is to provide variation and complexity in the overall experience. We do not want the monotony stimulus across multiple senses, creating a flat, single dimensional space. From this, we understand that the designer can and should use multiple senses, each in its own way.

Write down which senses are to be used then, the mode of the experience must be determined. For each sense, define is active, using technology, or passive, using materials and objects that are not electronic or electrical. For example, a designer can provide a scent by actively spraying a perfume with a machine every ten minutes, or an object can be infused with the oils and scent, or even better, the object can be origin of the scent. In this example, we could have an atomizer spray cinnamon scent periodically, have a wood or paper surface that is anointed with the cinnamon scented oils, or have sticks of cinnamon. Using the atomizer is active, whereas the oils and natural scents are passive.

For the active, we explore ways to use electronics and hardware to provide the senses in this work, but say it is a passive mode desired? What is the object or material that will require or employ a sense? How will that object or material be employed in the design? Is it passive itself, in that the sense experience is placed within the design without control of the output and meaning, like the sound of caged birds, or does the object or material get introduced in some way in the exploration of the design? The latter provides more control of how and when the sense is experienced, but it requires more specification and detail on how the sense is used. In fact, it is similar to the active mode in its complexity and need for delineation.

Once the senses and modes of conveyance are determined, the designer must explore the meaning and possible secondary meaning of the chosen senses. Is the meaning, feeling, and experience of the sensory input the same or similar to that desired and expected? Is there a better way to do this? Are there other or expanded meanings when using the sense? Then, what is a side effect or secondary result of using the sense? Finally, reaching beyond the simple or concrete, can the use of the senses make the imperceptible sensed and practical? (MLL, Adaptive Sensory Environments, Page 30)


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