Design Synesthesia

Posted 09/09/15 by Howard Sullivan

When was the last time you tasted the texture of a painting or saw a colour when you read a certain word? Today sees the launch of Tate's Sensorium exhibition, where artworks have been brought into new dimension through sound, texture and vision. The powerful new technology behind this exhibition will provide an exciting range of possibilities for retailers and brands.

Synesthesia is… a neurological condition experienced by very few people, where their mind combines the senses in unexpected ways. Stemming from the Ancient Greek word for together, a synesthetic person may see colours when they read certain words, or experience textures associated with sound.

The artist Kandinsky is said to have been a synesthete, hoping to evoke sound through his paintings. The art and design world is currently drawing inspiration from this phenomenon -from bringing sounds, tastes and textures to artworks, to sending aroma via a text message. The examples below explore some of the most inventive synesthetic design concepts with hints at how these may translate into the world of retail and experience design.

 The Sensorium, Tate Britain

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This new immersive exhibition launched at Tate Britain on Weds. 26th August 2015. Tate describes their mission as a way of enjoying their collection in different ways, enabling visitors to experience art with all of the senses:

'experience sounds, smells, tastes and physical forms inspired by the artworks, and record and review your physiological responses through sophisticated measurement devices.'

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Touchless haptics  will employ new technology to create sound waves that mean you can experience the sensation of touch without actually touching the surface of the paintings. 

Flavour technologies will be used to create custom scents using nature to conjure up aromas intended to influence the emotional perception of the artworks.

Texture tastes - chocolatier Paul A Young has developed an edible product that will simulate the experience of the textures and painterly qualities of work through an eating experience.

Wearable tech - wristbands measuring electrodermal activity will show how excited and stimulated visitors are during different parts of their experience.


The Sound of Fashion, Another Magazine & Timo Wirsching

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Shot from Another Magazine and Timo Wirsching's The Sound of Fashion 

We're all familiar with how powerful music helps shape the interpretation of a collection on the runway, but how can music and fashion translate in the lives of the people wearing the garments when they're off the catwalk?

Working with the Guildhall School of Music, Fashion Editor Nell Kalonji has teamed up with photographer TimoTimo Wirsching to photograph students wearing outfits listening to music they had a strong connection to. The resulting photographs are accompanied by a description of why and how that music affects their mood and their outfit. Soundtrack created to accompany the exhibition to create a fully immersive experience.

Tasting Colour

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 Still from Sean Rogg's The Waldorf Project: Chapter Two: Colour

"The more we can understand the interconnection between the five senses, the more we can affect them."
 Sean Rogg, The Waldorf Project

In his fully-immersive entertainment artworks, Sean Rogg, the mind behind The Waldorf Project, uses food as just one sensory element of the multi-sensory experiences he designs. His installation in London earlier this year, The Waldorf Project: Chapter Two: Colour, involved sound artists, choreographers and designers to create seven distinct architectural environments that helped visitors experience colour. 

Scented text messages: digital synesthesia

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 Professor Dan Edwards showing the world's first scented text message being sent from Paris to New York 

It won't be long before not only words, sounds and moving images but smells will be able to be sent via SMS message.

Harvard Professor Dan Edwards has created the world's first app that translates scents from one phone to another. His app oNote contains over 300 scents which can be combined and translated across the ether from one phone user to another who smells the aromas via a trumpet-like attachment to their phone.

Squelchy, tasty, synthy pizza

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For those of us jealous of the rare few with the ability to truly experience synesthesia, illustrator Julian Glander has created the ROY G BIV app. Hold the phone up to an object or image and it will respond with sound, but rather than a basic response, the fun continues:

"The app takes colour data from your iPhone or Android's camera and converts it into modulations for an 8-note synth," Julian says."Play a multi-coloured symphony with some friends, take a musical #selfie, experience a rough approximation of synesthesia. There's a lot of cool stuff you can do with it!"

Definitely worth checking out Julian's video here.

Key take-outs to inspire and guide:
• The senses can evoke powerful memories and spark imagination - correlating the senses with important moments in your customer experience strengthens the emotional connection with the customer.
• Emerging technologies like touchless haptics provide opportunities for retailers to convey a sense of touch and add materiality to a digital experience.
• Scent has the ability to reassure, calm, relax and elevate mood- scents and the senses can add tempo and variation to your environment to build a narrative and journey through a space.
• If art galleries are doing it, you need to be. Provide a range of multi-sensory experiences in your environment that excite, surprise and mesmerise your customers - be the talked-about experience
• Utilise the potential to humanise digital experiences within environments with the senses- sound, touch, taste, aroma.

YourStudio will be publishing a white paper on Design Synesthesia and how this can enhance the customer experience. We are also holding a symposium on multi-sensory design during London Design Week in September.

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