Because vision is so relied upon, a good strategy in design is to not address site as the primary sense when experiencing a space or building. There are several other senses to explore instead. Ultimately, we don’t need to ignore sight, but initially it could be better to highlight another sense to heighten the phenomenological experience in the built environment. Because vision is arguably the most used sense, the designer should ignore it and focus on other sensory modes.
To engage the senses requires the designer to turn off vision, use other receptors, and use vision as the last of the senses. Furthermore, like with light design, designing with the senses is best when turning all senses off and then slowly, methodically adding sensory experiences to give a specific idea or tell a story. The architect becomes a curator, pulling senses and trying to communicate certain ideas through those senses. Again, doing this, at first ignore the visual, make sensory interventions, then add vision. This is how we create a better, more experiential design.
To use only vision is what most designers already do. Some might say this is fully explored, and there is nothing left to learn from this. It is important to learn and explore all the elements of visual design, such as line, color, and pattern, but then it is time to move beyond these rudiments. Is less more? Probably in this instance. Instead of going directly to the graphic or visual strategies, define what the purpose or meaning is, then choose the senses.
What happens if we don’t use vision at all? What other senses should we use? The question should be, what are we trying to evoke? If we are trying to provide a sense of excitement, we should use sound and touch, in lieu of vision. Of the touch senses, some of the best choices to evoke excitement are pressure, cold thermoception, tension, stretch, vibration and equilibrioception. By using these, the experience could be much greater than relying solely on vision with strong colors, patterns, and linework to provide a sense of excitement. One of the great results of not using sight is the individual cannot see what is about to happen, appearance is not broadcast, instead sensations come out of nowhere.
It is clear that vision is overused, and it could be better to design for the other senses, not including sight. However, what if there are new ways to use vision? What would those be? Can light or color convey emotion, and are these emotions similar among most of the population, or at least, the users? Is blue always sadness? Is red always aggressive? Is it as easy as that? Perhaps, but are there new ways to use sight to affect design? For the sense itself, probably not, but how we use the sense to tell a story or create a mystery or quest for the user through using gamification and teaching strategies is very likely.
We can use the vision design methods in existing structures, as well as new projects. To improve experiential design through sight requires analysis and evaluation of the existing conditions, then we must ask what is the purpose or story we would like to convey. After these have been completed, we can introduce, slowly and carefully, visual cues and information to project the desired meaning. Because vision relies on the reflection of light and color, any form or surface can be updated and designed to help tell the story–it does not only have to be traditional forms of textiles and graphic design. Visual information is and can be on any building element, such as a column, ceiling, floor, or furniture–the location is only limited by the designer’s imagination.
So, how do we develop the idea slowly and carefully? After we have the story or design intent worked out, we can concurrently determine how we want to convey this visually and on what elements or spaces we would like to place the graphics or lighting. Then, we remove all visual components, leaving nothing to see or look at–this is the baseline, and then we build up from this. At first, we only explore one visual idea on one element or space, however after going through this a couple more times, we can build up or diminish the effects or presentation of the visual program. After finding a balance with the sight work, we can evaluate the work, explore other senses, or leave the project alone. It is important not to overstimulate the user with too much of visual experience or any other sensory experience.