Why Visceral UX?

Alastair Somerville
3 min readApr 12, 2018

This is the opening post from my new website, VisceralUX, and is an introduction to why I created it.

I have worked for years in both accessibility and sensory design under the Acuity Design brand. Every year of work and research has changed my ideas of what it is that matters to me in the design work that I make and share.

I have moved from design for senses to design for emotion and from understanding perception to understanding consciousness. Each time, it has been about a dissatisfaction with the existing structure of thinking and working.

The only thing that has remained the same is that design should enable the personal agency and intent of human beings, whatever their physical or cognitive capacity, in an equitable society.

The human perspective is what matters.

In the last year, I have been working with people who have deep knowledge of Mixed Realities (augmented and virtual reality design) and Transcendence (the human capacity to rapidly change capacities and intents in extraordinary ways). This work is technically challenging and complicated. However, from a human perspective, they become much clearer.

Humans are situated in their physicality. Wherever we go, there we are.

Human bodies are not just vehicles for our brains.

​The whole body affects how we experience, feel, understand and act.

The Russian Nesting Doll

Personas are a popular design tool in user experience, service design and marketing. I have always had problems with them. The way they can maintain biases against thinking about different product users in particular.

However, they are very useful and it was thinking about them that led to the Russian Nesting Doll idea shown above.

I have been interested in why humans are conscious for some time as it underlies a lot of behaviour. Antonio Damasio is my favourite author on this subject and he just wrote a new book called The Strange Order of Things.

One reason I changed to discussing emotions in design was Damasio’s original ideas on how feelings are made in the moment of sensing, rather than as a reaction to understanding.

In the new book, he is very clear that what differentiates humans from other intelligences is our nervous system, our viscera.

Our feelings are embodied in our viscera.

Our physicality creates the feelings that frame how we perceive, make meaning and act.

The Russian Doll is a way of showing that layering of physical elements that build into the whole system of human perception and consciousness. Making the external and internal elements of embodied cognition apparent.

This is why VisceralUX exists.

We need to understand and respect how people feel about our products and services to make them usable and useful.

We all feel before we understand.

I want to work with people who want to design experiences that respect people and share knowledge and techniques I have developed over the last few years.

Let me know how you feel about this!



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. www.linkedin.com/in/alastair-somerville-b48b368 Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX