On June 24 2020 I took part in the 24H Worldwide Design conversation organised by the Polimi Design Systems community of the Politecnico di Milano. The events was streamed live and 48 guests from across the world were invited to discuss a design related topic in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I selected TOUCH as my topic of conversation.
Following the COVID19 pandemic, many design paradigms need to be rethought and re‐invented. The POLIMI Design System community of the Politecnico di Milano will launch, on June 24, 2020, a continuous 24‐hour live broadcast, through a schedule that follows the international time zones; this way it will travel around the world, keeping at each session the same moment of the day.
The international network of the POLIMI Design System will be involved, and through teachers, professionals and alumni will start a fast and dynamic discussion dedicated to the culture of the project, oriented towards reflection on design changes after lockdown. Through 30 minutes sessions, the 48 guestswill develop their talks around a term, a keyword they propose, and consider to be significant in defining the design and its changes.
The link between multi-sensory experiences and wellbeing is recognised and has been documented across a broad range of practices, including architecture, interior design, ethnography, anthropology and environmental psychology. Our perception of the world derives from sensory, embodied interactions yet, as vision dominates in Western culture, our relationship with touch is more ambiguous. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, touch, direct skin and body contact, has become problematic, especially in the public realm. Due to obvious health concerns, we have learnt to wash our hands, to protect our face and stringent restrictions have been put in place. People may feel cautious, even concerned, about touching surfaces and others. Touch, which enables us to intimately connect with the world and which until now we took for granted, is now perceived as a risk, impacting on spatial and social encounters. Although this could be perceived as negative, this situation may also provide opportunities to re-think relations between people and environment, to reconsider embodied experience in design by exploring ways for people to retain a sense of tactile connection with the built and social environments. In order to find answers, we need to understand which questions we should ask.
Although I don’t usually consider the senses in isolation, I chose to talk about touch, by which I mean specifically ‘skin and body contact through the act of touching’, because in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, touch is more likely to be perceived as a risk. Surfaces, especially in the public realm, can be perceived as posing significant risks to our physical health. At present, we’re being told not to touch.