ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

So you want to Design for the Senses? Don’t Forget These!

Posted by Plish on January 15, 2011

When we think about the senses we usually default to the five primary senses of  Sight, Hearing, Smell, Taste and  Touch.

We could further subdivide the taste  (sweet, salty, etc.) and touch (cold, hot, pain, etc.) categories but usually those distinctions are useful only under certain circumstances.

There are however, four other “Senses” that humans all use to some extent or another, and these also play (or at least should play) key roles in designing products and services.   These are:

1. Motion/Balance

This sense is tied into our experience of moving through the world or for that matter, standing still and not tipping over on an incline.  We even speak of  a  ‘sense of balance.’  The body is especially sensitive to changes in acceleration.  This sense gets reinforcement from the sense of sight which explains why some people get more nauseous experiencing a movie of a roller coaster in a theater than they do on the roller coaster itself. This is because the eyes are telling the brain there is movement but the vestibular organs responsible for sensing movement are saying, “you’re sitting still,” and the confusion messes with your gut.  The Wii and various video games leverage this sense as do vehicles.  Think of how nice a strong acceleration feels when you’re trying to get into traffic from a short entry lane.

2. Proprioception

This is the body’s ability to know where its various parts are in relation to each other, even when we can’t see those other parts.  The ‘touch the tip of your finger to your nose with your eyes closed’ test is for this sense.  When people (factory workers, athletes, physicians, etc.) are training various limbs to repeatably do certain tasks, products need to be designed to not interfere with this sense. This is why professional baseball players’ bats are made to tight specifications at an athlete’s request.  Any small variation in the bat could, and most likely will, interfere with this sense and alter the player’s swing. 

3. Time 

Time is something that is poorly designed for, if at all.   We often design to minimize the amount of time being spent but fail to realize that most people have a tendency to overestimate the amount of time it takes to do something when that task is unpleasant.   It’s essential to design products and services such that the passage of time be more pleasurable or useful.   Remember, if you design something that results in a boring three-minute wait, it will feel like ten to the person waiting and it will leave people with a bad experience. 

4. Morality

Here again, like the phrase, “sense of balance,’ we use the phrase, “sense of morality,” in everyday language.  This sense, which also may rely on the other senses to inform it, can influence design in many ways.  Moral sense undergirds the  Sustainable or Green design movements.  Failure to pay attention to this aspect of design can be problematic.  In the 1990’s, it became known that Nike was using sweatshop labor to manufacture its shoes.  Since then, Nike has been on a mission to improve labor conditions, as well as its reputation.  Over the years, they have made great advances, as have other industries like the leather industry where innovative tanning methods have been developed so that workers are not exposed to toxic chemicals.  This interconnected world is starting to breath with a pan-cultural sense of morality.  Ignore it in your designs at your own risk.

So, next time you’re designing something that you want to impact the senses, don’t forget to go beyond the realm of sight, touch, sound, smell and taste.  Innovations that do will be better received, and most likely, better for the world.

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One Response to “So you want to Design for the Senses? Don’t Forget These!”

  1. […] So you want to Design for the Senses? Don’t Forget These! […]

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