Coming to your senses

Is Multisensory design the new outer limit? … we design for the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue and for our other senses – balance, body awareness and temperature. Usually our design solutions engage at most two senses. The term multi-media is a bit of an exaggeration or at least an overstatement … sure it may include a combination of text, audio, still images, animation, video and perhaps interactivity – but so what? Multi-media only engages two senses – sight and hearing. What if we could design in a manner that engages, stimulates or ‘triggers’ more than two senses? We could call it sensational … its actually called Multi-sensory Design.

When design was a child of the early human imagination it was simple but it was serious too … it was about survival. Early designers were of the ‘product design’ variety – creating new tools for defence, new tools for hunting, new tools for gathering and for farming. Design was also about fun – finding ways of changing the human body by painting it, or adorning the body with decorations, altering the body with piercings and other embellishments (including perfume) – these were the early fashion designers. Early graphic designers painted the walls of caves with instructional or entertaining images. These days of course, like everything else, Design has grown up. Design itself is still about simplicity but the context in which we experience it and deliver it is becoming increasingly complex.

Humans began by designing small hand held devices made from flint, now we concern ourselves with designing complex cities to house millions of people. We ‘design-think’ across all spheres of human activity, usually trying to improve the human condition. Not content with design as a single overarching term, we have made it many things: we have design thinking, service design, design management, product design, information design, experience design and interaction design and more. These terms describe what we are delivering – what happens if we look at how design is experienced?

The MSD Group is a new project led by Cearbhall O’Meadhra, Visiting Research Fellow at the NCAD. MSD Group invites designers and users alike to join in discussion of their newly discovered paradigm of “Sensory Modal Switching” … it is “the mechanism that people use to explore the sensory aspects of a design and create a Multisensory Response Pattern. Focusing on the definition of the design message has led to a unique discovery regarding the way in which stakeholders experience products”. In their first discussion paper MSD Group presents multisensory processing, layering in memory and sensory modal switching as the essential processes involved in multisensory perception. MSD Group claim their “new approach will ensure a greater understanding of why and how designers should deliver a more complete design message. MSD Group would like to hear your response to their ideas.

Read the discussion paper here.

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