Vibration makes the static come alive through the dispersion of sound or a periodic wave through a surface or solid. Naturally, vibration is created through movement, and it can be used as a form of communication, threat, or as a by-product of motion. As with other senses and types of touch, vibration is best experienced in limited amounts, as vibration in a constantly moving environment would be lost. A still space will allow the sense of vibration to reverberate and nearly broadcast through a space. The use of vibration has variables of amplitude, speed, and constancy or intermittence.
Vibration allows the communication of information without the need for other senses. On the other hand, the sense of vibration will augment and complement the other senses. Most of the time in practice, vibration is used to alert the user of some change or notification. Using a vibrating motor that rotates eccentrically is the most common way to create vibration in electronic devices, and it is common on phones, videogame controllers, and even apparel to convey meaning. However, another use is the change in quantity or quality over time. This could be useful or annoying, as the vibration signal is continuous with variation. Nonetheless, the advantage is that others never have to see or hear the information, the wearer can feel it, instead.
If design were only vibration, information would need to be communicated through various vibrating motors or using the amplitude, frequency, and intermittence to provide information. This could be confusing with a cacophony of vibration. On the other hand, the absolute silence of a space lacking any sensory vibration would be eerie and unnerving. A path of moderation is preferred. Fewer vibration sources will help improve the efficacy of the sense.
Most designs do not incorporate vibration, so there is little to lose without the use of vibration. But, the introduction of the sense in an installation will create more dynamic effect where the project has a nervous energy that creates depth in an otherwise flattened design. Without vibration, the designer really needs to have varying intensities in the other senses to create the innervating effect of vibration. Weathering and detail work will allow a visual analogy to vibrating, and the repetition of other senses will give a similar feeling. Can other senses vibrate? Sound is vibration. And, the variation of the sound and its many characteristics will allow vibration. The pulsing of taste or smell will create a vibration, and some might say the use of hot sauces can provide such a sensation.
Vibration can be more than a sense of touch. We can use the same method of vibration to put water or air into motion. With light and optics, this can create shimmering and almost magical effects. Furthermore, the use of sound through the vibration of magnets in speakers can create mesmerizing forms with ferrofluid, a liquid with iron suspended within. Similarly, the complementing of vibration to sound in headphones or headrests can create a buzzing vision in the user, as the head moves slightly back and forth.
To use vibration in an existing structure, the designer should remove environmental indicators and substitute these with vibration. There can be multiple types of vibrating–intermittent or varying over time, like a gradient. In addition, vibration can serve as a warning in areas that are not appropriate for access. Otherwise, care should be taken to only use vibration where information needs to be conveyed, and the user needs to understand the code or meaning of the vibration. Is it a coded language? Is it a cultural known? Vibration can give meaning in many ways. What is the best one to use in an existing space?
The designer must use vibration’s variables, including amplitude, frequency, and the constant or varying signal to improve the built environment. The designer should keep in mind the meaning and use of the sense of vibration in the installation’s context in order to communicate with as many users as possible. A light touch is needed in order to avoid overexposure to the sense, and with care, vibration will allow a richer design, without being kitsch or inappropriate.
(It is important to share the possibilities and precedents in vibration and the other senses with a one to two sentence description in order to make real the use of the senses in design. Without examples, the reader may find the idea suspect. Also, the mode of use in relation to the sensors and actuators will make the possibilities grow through expression of the method and use.)