How to make sense of designing for all our senses?

Alastair Somerville
3 min readJul 19, 2015


When I sat in the Museum Of History And Industry (MOHAI) in Seattle, I could feel the leather seat beneath me, the light reflecting off the polished wood floor glared harshly, the noise of kids playing to my right was muted by the “Innovation Idea” wagons surrounding their play area, the smell of the cafe was wafting in waves as the door to my left opened and closed and I still had the taste of the (surprisingly for Seattle) not very good cafe coffee in mouth.

The atrium of MOHAI

What I was trying to understand was how to tell people where the elevators and stairs to the exhibition area were. How to blend sensed moments of place as wayfinding cues that people could perceive and understand.

I work in sensory design; in particular I interpret information for people with cognitive and physical impairments. A lot of my time is spent trying to understand how people seek and sense the meaning they want or need from physical or digital places and products.

In order to do this, I run sensory audits with project stakeholders: the people who are financing it all, the people who are providing it all and the people who are expected to experience it all as visitors or consumers.

This is at core what sensory design is about.

Exploring and discovering how people use their personal sensory capacities to enrich their own experiences and how we can support that sensemaking through design.

Designing Wearable Experiences at UX Lisbon 2015

I also run workshops to help people understand how important multisensory design is. It’s so easy to forget the broadness of our individual experiences when concentrating on the user interface of a new app. The visual is a powerful trap for humans who are seeking patterns and meanings.

Sensory Design Sticky Notes

This week, I’m trying something new. I know people can’t attend my workshops due to time and cost but they’d like to do something about integrating sensory design in their own work now.

So on 22nd July, I’m starting an Indiegogo funded project to create Sensory Design Sticky Notes.

They’re a simple way of enabling people to think about and manage the sensory design issues that can be easily forgotten in prototyping, design and testing of new products and services.

I’m keeping it all quite open and simple because I think people can explore and discover meaning themselves with their teams and their stakeholders.

I’m offering a framing device to help nudge them to ask the sensory questions and identify the behaviours that are easy to forget to ask about or to record formally.

Enabling awareness of senses and emotions during design and testing

From $17 for a pack of 5 sticky note pads for our 5 core senses to $85 for a workshop pack of 5 packs, the Indiegogo is a way of enabling and embedding sensory design into any project at any stage.

Sensory Design Sticky Note prototypes

You can buy them now on Indiegogo.

If you would like know more, contact me by email or follow me on Twitter.

P.S. If this Indiegogo works out then I will make the next set of Sensory Design Sticky Notes for 5 more human senses: the ones we don’t generally think about but use all the time!



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX