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ACD Conversation Lab 8: Sensory Design

By May Newisar

Over the last couple of years, the study of the relationship between the human senses and

socio-spatial relations has grown considerably with issues related to inclusive design and a

sense of belonging.

With the continuous challenges facing practitioners and policymakers in the urban planning

and urban design field; co-design has always proved its efficiency to find innovative

approaches to empower people to have their voice heard in the design process.

Practitioners in co-design often refer to co-design principles as a mindset. Sanders (2008), for example, makes the distinction between a “participatory mindset” and an “expert mindset”. The participatory mindset is founded on equality (Sanoff, 1990), the idea that “all people are creative” (Naranjo Bock, 2012), and the “faith” that each person can engage in and influence change in their life (Burkett, 2012). Citizens and stakeholders should be engaged in the creation of services and policies that relate to their experiences as “experts in their own experiences”.

From this point of view the 8th Conservation Lab on “Sensory Design” started by a reflection

on what is the strongest sense we have as practitioners when we are experiencing the

environment surrounding us? Over the last couple of years, the study of the relationship

between the human senses and socio-spatial relations has grown considerably.

Smell: Dove (2008) describes the sense of smell as “the pathway to the memory of a person” for example the effect of gardening and green spaces or port cities with the sea breeze and fishing activities which are all used as communicating tools. Barbara and Perliss (2006) examine contemporary arguments over smell and place and divide them into two positions: those seeking a genuine smell of the place and those seeking to capture a memorable and exceptional experience.

Hearing: which could be attributed to the level of noise within a place or the sound of

individual elements in the surrounding environment such as churches, traffic lights, trams,

trains and seagulls in port cities. Maffiolo et al. (1999) asked listeners to classify urban

soundscapes (based on loudness or pleasantness) and discovered two generic classification types: “event sequences”, in which individual sounds can be distinguished within the soundscape, and “amorphous sequences”, in which individual sounds are difficult to distinguish. This helps more in the mind mapping of certain locations based on those individual sounds.

Touch: the feelings of textures and different uses of materials as a way of exploring the

surrounding environment. How the use of certain elements from a distance draws your

attention towards it and makes you more curious to approach this area.

Sense of direction: how the surrounding environment is active or not again makes you

curious and draws your attention to explore or the busy streets full of people that contribute to the legibility of a place.

During this discussion, more interesting questions emerged such as how our senses reacted differently with COVID19 and the lockdown? Therefore, what was addressed as the

dominant sense changed and can be addressed differently. For example, with the active

environment full of people or related to the noise level vanished and the focus shifted towards addressing a healthy environment with a sensory design approach.

Thus, the key question discussed: what are the key senses that help design inclusive,

welcoming spaces? How are these addressed in the different stages of collaborative design?

Our senses are one of the tools that are used in the design and the question will be how do we conceptualise the senses? In this way, the senses may be seen as sufficiently

non-discontinuous or even indivisible parts of the same object. While recognising the

overlapping corroborative character of experience, it is useful to treat the senses as distinct

but interconnected phenomena. The senses as Gibson (1966) described them as perceptual systems.

How this perceptual system is integrated into the design process. What is the level of

intervention to control or adjust the environment? Can individuals have a sense of belonging?

Accordingly, what is harmful to the senses, people with a high level of anxiety can quit

spaces where they feel anxious due to noise level, visual disturbance and other factors. How the use of digital advertisement to dominate our spaces can impact the locals?

This is to leave us with an interesting point of discussion to be the topic of our 9th

Conversation Lab to share our understanding of the role of sensory design in collaborative

design processes.

Please join us in the next Conversation Lab 9 on the 27th of October which will be themed

around “Sensory Design Part 2 - Process and Practice”.

In the meantime, check out these relevant links from Lab 8:

A guide from the Sensory Trust on community engagement

Meditative soundwalks connecting health, digital and understanding sound in the outdoor

Creating the Everyday Commons: Spatial Patterns of Sharing Culture - Eleni Katrini

Podcast: experience of Michael and his guide dog navigating out of the World Trade Centre

on 11 September 2001

TED Talk: Chris Downey: Design with the blind in mind

Sennheiser Headphones for 360 audio

Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset (iOS) for 3D Video Sound - White :

Computers & Accessories

Thank you to those who attended and for your donations


Barbara, A. and Perliss, A., 2006. Invisible Architecture – Experiencing Places through the

Sense of Smell, Milan: Skira.

Burkett, I., 2012. An Introduction to Co-Design. Sydney: Knode.

Dove, R., 2008. The Essence of Perfume, London: Black Dog Publishing.

Gibson, J.J., 1966. The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems, Westport: Greenwood.

Maffiolo AV, Castellengo M, Dubois D., 1999. Qualitative judgements of urban

soundscapes. In: Inter-Noise 99, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA

Naranjo-Bock, C., 2012. ‘Creativity-Based Research: The Process of Co-Designing with

Users.’ UX Magazine, Available from

Sanders, E., 2008. ‘An Evolving Map of Design Practice and Design Research.’

Interactions, Available from:

html [Accessed 1 November 2008]

Sanoff, H., 1990. Participatory Design: Theory and Techniques. Raleigh, NC: Bookmasters.


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