Designing for the senses, designing for the future

The BE OPEN Forum at Design Miami/ reveals the sensory visions of today’s most innovative designers

Imagine if you could design a product that appealed to the sixth sense – something that felt intuitively ‘right’. It would be a runaway success because everyone would want it, without questioning it. This is the area that the BE OPEN Foundation has chosen to research over the next year. It launched the project at the 2012 London Design Festival with a series of events that focused on the sense of sound and how to design for that.

On Saturday 8 December, the BE OPEN Forum, held in collaboration with Design Miami/ , showcased five designers who know all about triggering a gut reaction and revealed the latest thinking on sensory powered design.

BE OPEN Founder Elena Baturina said: “For the BE OPEN Forum, we decided to invite young creatives who are being recognised for their individualistic approach to sensorial design. They are all true innovators, brand new voices who combine the five senses and emotions with their own sensibility to focus on distinctly different fields like bioengineering, computer science, food and scent. We are excited to be hosting this event ahead of a year of global research dedicated to the senses.”

Speaking to a packed talks theatre, moderator Jeffrey Miller commended BE OPEN’s focus on finding the great design minds of our time, rather than simply creating more product and the speakers reiterated this by showcasing a range of projects whose aim was to stimulate thought and emotion.

Dawn Goldworm, who with her sister co-founded 12.29, an olfactory branding company that has been creating the ‘scent’ of Design Miami/ since 2008, spoke about how smell, the most powerful of all the senses in terms of triggering memory, can bring all the right associations to a product, space or brand. Smell is the only sense that becomes fully developed before birth – we have a sense of smell in the womb at 13 weeks – so it is critical to the way we experience the world. Dawn talked about working with ‘touchpoints’ that speak to a whole range of people: familiar, ‘comfort’ scents, such as beauty, baby and food products that can generate positive feelings when used in a space. “I am personally passionate about scent, which has such a powerfully instinctive impact on us”, says Elena Baturina,  “so I am fascinated to learn how an extension of perfumery practice is one of the next frontiers in bespoke design.” 

Eating Designer Marije Vogelzang’s experiences of how taste and the ritual of eating impact on us built on many of the ideas discussed by Dawn. She talked about the emotional and cultural connection that people invest in food, but also showed how, as the only material that enters our bodies, food becomes part of us and is therefore the ultimate ‘design’ material.

Pushing the group sensory experience a step further, design practice Zigelbaum + Coelho revealed their brand new project ‘Pulse’ which relies on the phenomenon of entrainment, where inanimate objects (eg metronomes) and animate organisms (ie humans) naturally synchronise their rhythm. Jeffrey Miller was excited about the harmonising potential for Pulse for instance at diplomatic meetings: if everyone in the room starts breathing and operating in synch, won’t there be more chance for world peace, he wondered?

Tuur Van Balen, of design duo Cohen Van Balen, has similarly aspirational thoughts, creating ‘encounters’ that are designed to make us question the future, reflect differently on our environment and think of new potential solutions. His most enjoyable example is Pigeon D’Or, a project to make pigeons defecate soap, a thought provoking approach to cleaning up our cities.

Meanwhile Carter Cleveland, founder of art and design portal, talked about how he had created the ultimate synthesis of art and engineering with this website that gives us free and intimate access to art around the world. The feature of the site that allows us to see artwork to scale, as though we are in the room with it, is crucial, says Carter, to our appreciation and to breaking down preconceptions about technology as an interface.

Jeffrey Miller summed up the talks by saying that all of the speakers have an open-mindedness to creativity that sits at the heart of BE OPEN’s philosophy. The way that these designers use technology to create accessible, emotional experiences is a fascinating insight into the future of design practice.

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