Create Interactive Experiences through Sensory Design

Great art is experienced, not just seen, but often design is geared toward viewing only.

Consider how most design is caged by image – we “look” at design rather than sensing, feeling, or experiencing it. (Think of high-production, polished images flattened to social media, or framed artwork beneath sheets of glass in a gallery.)

What if you could change that, re-structuring your approach so that the primary aim of your designs was to engage or delight? Appealing to other senses can enliven your designs and shift your perspective toward a more immersive user experience.

Push Past Your Visually-Dominated Design Parameters

Here are three prompts to spark sensory engagement in your next piece.

1. Start with a Blindfold

Sometimes the visual so dominates our imagination that we need to shut down sight to allow our brain to explore other possibilities.


When you have a theme in mind (like coffee or hiking), try placing yourself in similar environments (like a coffee shop or the woods) while sitting blindfolded for five minutes. Because you only have one center of attention, blocking out sight can help you tune in to sensory and emotional cues you might otherwise miss.

2. Design for a Sense of Taste

Food is a deep and defining part of our culture, playing a central role in our celebrations, sacraments, and satisfaction.

Experiment with bright colors of vegetables, abstract candlelit plates, or foods that carry heavy scent cues to trigger pathways to memory and awaken viewer emotion.


3. Design the Feeling of an Idea

Neuroscience tells us we are emotional decision-makers, not rational spreadsheets.

How can you translate intellectual ideas into emotional realities for your audience? Incorporate visual cues to elicit strong reactions: shock, disgust, curiosity, intimidation, or a desire to touch, to name a few. Think of James Bond’s sleek Aston Martin or a heap of delicate moist bubbles floating in a luxurious hot bath. How do these visceral designs prompt a powerful gut reaction?

Before putting pen to paper, consider how you want your designs to make people feel, and build from there. As design professor Bruce Claxton once said, “people are seeking out products that are not just simple to use, but a joy to use.”

Living designs focus on the viewer's experience, not just your message. Take responsibility for the story you want viewers to experience and incorporate sensory design to move your audience with beauty and delight!

The Senses: Design Beyond Vision Hardcover

by by Ellen Lupton (Editor), Andrea Lipps (Editor)

A powerful reminder to anyone who thinks design is primarily a visual pursuit, The Senses accompanies a major exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum that explores how space, materials, sound, and light affect the mind and body. Learn how contemporary designers, including Petra Blaisse, Bruce Mau, Malin+Goetz and many others, engage sensory experience. Multisensory design can solve problems and enhance life for everyone, including those with sensory disabilities. Featuring thematic essays on topics ranging from design for the table to tactile graphics, tactile sound, and visualizing the senses, this book is a call to action for multisensory design practice.