Sensory Experiences & Designing for the Senses
Published Dec 4
I realized that everything I do and I'm drawn towards is about creating and sharing sensual experiences –for myself and in a lot of cases other people– cooking and design being two examples.
I think I'm safe in saying that all people do things that they really enjoy doing for the sensory experience.
"Sensual" is not a Dirty Word
The entire world is sensual, we take it in through our senses. I think more sensual an experience the better the experience –the greater experiences in life being those that involve all the senses, the prime examples being: (good) food & sex (and drugs, but that's cheating).
Now who doesn't like graphs?
So if we think about the five senses –for the pedants out there, I'm aware there are more senses, but I'm sticking with the classic 5 for the sake of this post– we can oversimplify our experienes and perhaps rate each out of 10 (per sense) as a metric of how involved the experience is with that sense.
As a very highly sensual experience, perhaps few things can live up to sex.
Our experiences with food (traditionally, eating it) are heavily varied, I'll admit, but we all know when we've had good food.
Good food should ultimately taste and smell fantastic, but how it looks and feels is quite important too.
I've given it a few points for sound; you may be unaware of it but the aural experience of eating is always there –crunching, slurping, crackling, etc.
Bad food, like say fast food, is not without the experience, but I would argue it's less than that of good food. Despite being awful, these bastards in the fast food industry have, in some cases, made things taste alright.
Personally, I feel that the better I become at cooking the greater ability I have to give people a better sensual experience through food and I have a responsibility to do so –or I do it easily with chocolate. ;)
Now what about things that don't involve all senses but are highly enjoyable, like music?
Music, yes, is a great experience for our sense of hearing, however, I'd wager you've had reactions to great food that you haven't had to music. ;)
Experiencing music is heavily varied, but there are generally two ways: listening or playing –there is watching a musical performance, but I'd categorize it as a combination of music and visual experiences, much like a film.
Personally, I enjoy doing both playing and listening to music, but I find playing music a richer experience as it involves more senses.
I think as designers, we have a responsibility to appeal to the senses of other people. They, after all, experience what we design –hence the whole field of "user experience".
Interaction design is (simply) about designing the "interactions" people have with things.
Let me boil down the entirety of interaction design to the button for my argument –or simply, a single cause and effect entity– also it's easier to showcase on a website. ;)
Clicking a link is an interaction: you click it and you're taken to another thing or something happens –you're "linked" to another experience. So that experience of clicking can be varied as well.
So here's the classic for of a link seen throughout the web:link
Fairly, innocuous and forgetable. (For my site I've jazzed it up slightly: link.)
But the design of a link can always be taken further and realized as a button.
Now let me plot all three in a sense-chart.
For simplicity, I've redefined touch as 'something happening when you click', or the level of interaction –i.e. the greater the experience when clicking the link the higher the number.
Perhaps obviously, a button is lacking the latter senses –while some do utilize a clicky sound– but as computers can't produce smells or tastes (yet) it's a pretty low experience.But it should be.
Designing a person's interaction with something should result in a nice experience but the design should not be overdone to the point of being memorable in any significant way (good or bad).
Either your design's user experience is poor and it leaves a bad impression with the person using it or it's done well and people remember it being a nice experience but they don't remember the nuances –the goal is to not frustrate anyone and to be "not there" and to "get out of the way" of the user's experience of the product.
In my mind, design is about playing with a persons senses by manipulating the form and function of a thing and finding a balance that elicits the right sensual experience for the context of the product and that's fun. :)