Designing with the Senses Text III

When the senses are documented in the preliminary, schematic, design development, and contract document phases, the designer must determine whether the sensory experiences are passive or active. If they are passive, then the documentation provided in the contract documents and cut sheets is adequate to define the design. However, if the experiences are active, requiring electric or electronic design, then the method, hardware, and software necessary to achieve the sense moment must be defined for each experience.

In a design installation, we will assume that there are many sensory experiences, but how many using electronics are there? We must provide a precise number and determine where each of these are located. The drawings and diagrams, as mentioned above, will be able to provide the location, and we can simply count the number of active sense moments given in the drawings, if adequately annotated. If the drawings do not have a designation for active experiences, then it will be useful to do so.

After counting the number of active sense moments to design for, the designer should divide and separate these into the various senses, in order to provide structure for the design and documentation. In fact, the details should be separated by sense per sheet in order to allow the various designs to share notes and specifications when necessary. So, all smell designs are on a sheet, all hearing designs are on another sheet, et cetera.

Next, we must evaluate how we are going to use these individual moments. There are many ways we can do this, including mapping a sense input to another sense output, translating the input to another, more understandable meaning, and providing a sense response to some stimulus. Really, there are countless ways to use the senses, but the structure of these sense experiences can be broken down to just a handful, really only five, relationships of the cause and effect.

We will go over these five relationships, but in order to do so, we need to understand what the sensory input and the sensory output are, or what is the cause and effect? In the way we interact with the world, everything we experience is a form of sensory input. Language, data, sounds, imagery, tastes: everything that we perceive comes into our brains through some sense. We must define what is the precise sense we will focus on as the input for each experience, and from this we can develop the relationship that will lead the cause (input) to the effect (output).

After determining the sensory input, we must define the sensory output. What is supposed to happen? Is there some smell that wafts through the space? Does a surface go from smooth to rippled? Do the acoustics of the space change? It is crucial to define this output in order to put together the interrelation of cause and effect. As the designer, there should be a clear and definite outcome, aligning with the design intentions.

Once we have the input, output, and relationship between the two, we can analyze the cause and effect relationship, then develop a conditional statement to describe the interactivity between the two. This conditional statement in everyday speech will be similar to: if something, then something else. The script to define this conditional statement to the microcontroller or computer looks very similar with a little different syntax.

There can be a very simple relationship defined by a simple conditional statement, or it can be a more complex relationship where certain values make certain things happen or not happen, while other values provide other experiences. In this way, we can define the five different relationships we can use to program the electronics and hardware for the sense experience. The following gives a brief description of each, and there are script examples for each, later in the work.

The first is binary mapping. This is one of the simpler relationships where we provide an output by whether or not there is a value for the input. It is off or on, there is no other option in this relationship. An example of this is to express a citrus scent when a sensor sees the color orange.

The next relationship is one-to-one. Really, this relationship can be considered two relationships in that the input are related to one another but with different results. The first one-to-one relationship is the direct relationship where a sense experience increases with the increase of the sense input. An example of this would be a space growing brighter with more noise.

Counter to this relationship, there is the indirect one-to-one relationship. In this, the sense experience decreases as the input increases, and the experience increases as the input decreases. If we continue with the same example, in an indirect one-to-one relationship, a space would grow darker with more noise, and the space would become brighter with less noise.

Next, we have the threshold relationship, which is somewhat like the combination of the binary with the one-to-one relationship. When using a threshold conditional statement, a sense experience will occur when a certain value or amount of the sense input is present. For example, music might play when there are seven or more people in a space.

Finally, we have multiple thresholds, which is a relationship that determines the amount sensory input and provides different outputs, depending on the input values. For this condition, the threshold example above can be expanded to the type of music being dependent on the number of people in the space. So, soft piano music will play for seven to fifteen people present, brass music will play for sixteen to thirty, and club music will play for more than thirty people present.

These are the five relationships, but the interaction of the sensory inputs and outputs can become more complex with the combination of these. Furthermore, it is possible to add even more dynamism with the introduction of more than one input, output, and conditional statement to a design moment. However, you might find it is better to keep the interaction spare and limited to avoid sensory overload.


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