Designing experiences – Sensory ecology

In October and November 2021, I designed and led two workshops that allowed me to put principles developed in my PhD research into practice and test their validity and transferability. The outcome of these workshops will contribute further insights to the PhD. The first workshop took place on 26th and 27th of October in Pamplona, Spain, at the University of Navarra with students from the BA Service Design students. The second workshop took place online on 20th of October and on 3rd of November, a collaboration between students from the BA Interior Design at Politecnico di Milano and students from the BA (Hons) Design for Branded Spaces at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London.

I would like to thank the students at Navarra, PoliMI and LCC for their valued contribution and amazing designs. I would also like to thank Aitor Alicu and Alicia Fernandez Barranco at University of Navarra, as well as Alessandr Biemonti, Silvia Maria Gramegna and Lorenzo Fossi at Politecnico di Milana for their support and warm welcome.

In these workshops students were introduced to principles of sensory ecology exploring the correlation between sensing and emotions in the context of place attachment and wellbeing. The objective was to design experiences that enabled people to develop positive emotional connections towards their environment. The principles explored in these workshops are discussed in a paper published in 2020. The paper titled “Inhabiting the Public Interior. An Exploration into the Critical Role of Personalisation in Imparting Quality to Public Life” is discussed in a previous post titled ‘Inhabiting the Public Interior’.

Mallgrave, H. F. (2018) From Object to Experience. The New Culture of Architectural Design. London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts.
Caan, S. (2011) Rethinking Design and Interiors – Human Beings and the Built Environment. London: Laurence King.

Designing experiences – University of Navarra, BA Service Design.

The activity took place on the site of the University of Navarra Museum designed by architect Rafael Moneo. First, students were invited to re-consider the museum as a public interior and were provided with tools to document and map sensory phenomena (sight, touch, smell, hearing, kinaesthesia). They were then tasked to design interventions that would entice visitors on a journey through the interior and enrich their experience of Museum.

Students from the BA Service Design course working on the site of the Museum.
Students from the BA Service Design course working in their studio.
Students from the BA Service Design course working in their studio.

Designing experiences – Politecnico di Milano, BA Interior Design and London College of Communication, BA (Hons) Design for Branded Spaces.

The activity took place online using Miro as a platform for students to collaborate (a fantastic platform for individual and group work). First students learned about the primacy of sensing and the types of emotional qualities people may experience in the built environment. They were then tasked to design a temporary public space or pavilion where people could define personal and group territories while still maintaining positive sensory connections with the collective environment.

Online interactive studio space (Miro).
Sensory map – Sample work from the collaboration between BA Interior Design and BA Design for Branded Spaces students.
Sensory map – Sample work from the collaboration between BA Interior Design and BA Design for Branded Spaces students.

These activities draw on phenomenological and ecological theoretical principles. Here, phenomenology is presented as the study of experience from the first-person perspective to foreground the primacy of embodied perception. The ecological perspective explores the relationship between living organisms (people) and their environment (the build environment). Phenomenology and ecology bring the perceptual and the relational together to become phenomenological ecology, a principles coined by Mark Reigner (1993, p.181) and discussed by David Seamon (1993, p. 16) in the book ‘Dwelling, Seeing, and Designing. Toward a Phenomenological Ecology’.

References

Reigner, M. (1993) ‘Toward a Holistic Understanding of Place: Reading the Landscape through its Flora and Fauna’, in Seamon, D. (ed.) Dwelling, Seeing and Designing. Toward a Phenomenological Ecology. Albany, USA: State University of New York.

Seamon, D. (ed.) (1993) Dwelling, Seeing and Designing. Toward a Phenomenological Ecology. New York: State University of New York Press.

Touch

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.

PRESS RELEASE

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.

Programme and list of participants

TOUCH (abstract)

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.

Recording: Touch

Recording: all conversations