Designing,  Tangible Intangibles

Paying Attention to Your Sensory Landscape



I’ve been following the blog by Ingrid Fetell Lee for awhile now: The Aesthetics of Joy. .

As a designer, she has mind provoking thoughts on the power of bringing joy into our worlds and thereby upgrading our lives.  Ms. Fetell published her book Joyful last year in September about how to find that joy in so many ways while changing our perceptions and perspective.

In her Joy Letter this month, she discussed  crossmodal perception.  This is a concept that  opened my mind to ideas I think I was unconsciously aware of but now will certainly be more cognizant.    It deals with how one sense affects another. A certain light, for instance, filtering through a window in the morning can evoke a smell memory of raspberries ripening in the sun.  The touch of a soft chunky throw on a couch becomes more luxurious when accompanied by strains of Chopin playing in the background.  The taste of food is heightened with the sound of the crunch in the ingredient or the bright fresh colors on the plate.

The taste of whiskey was tested by 400 volunteers in three separate environments: a plant-filled room, a wood-paneled lounge and a setting with a bowl of berries.  It proved the setting where they sipped the liquor brought different flavors to the forefront even though it was the same whiskey.  Of course, there is a whole branch of interior design dedicated to restaurant decor with just this concept in mind.  Herein lies the hopes that the right environment can make the food and drink taste even better.

We are more than our individual five senses.  We were gifted with the interaction of the senses.  It is our sensory landscape.  If we take a moment to zero in on all around us we will perceive how the pieces fit into our lives.  Does a chair fit you so well it brings you joy requiring you to sit just a little longer?  On the flip side, does your silverware irritate you because it’s too light in weight or the edges too sharp on the handle.  Does the glass coffee table get in the way as you walk through your room, making your chores seem a little harder?  Does the mishmash of clothing spilling out of your closet make you feel deprived and poor because your eye is confused and can’t see any coordination there?  These aren’t small things to brush off.  They result in either an accumulation of joy or irritants.   They will work to bring you happiness or bring you down incrementally.

As design professionals, these become discussion points with clients.  What can you discern about their discomforts and how can you inject joy into their lives?  Instead of papering the walls or choosing a paint color,  drill down on the joys and irritations of their present living.  Perhaps a purge or re-setting of a space plan is in order first.  Marie Kondo them and discover what and why they are holding onto things that are clouding their sensory environment.  Lead them to the light.  Help them to feel their underlying nuanced senses and then design from a new joyful point.  Many of us have developed our tastes due to what others have concocted in magazine pages or someone else’s house.  If we choose a design by how things feel, smell, and exude joyful micro emotions, the happiness we inject into our own and other’s lives will reverberate out exponentially into the world.

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