Back in kindergarten, you were most likely taught about the five senses – to see, to hear, to feel, to smell and to taste. Did you know that these senses should be strongly considered when designing a space, whether an office, hotel or home? It creates a Multisensory Experience and people experience these senses differently from person to person. By establishing an environment that taps into the different senses, it can influence a person’s mood, behavior and even their well-being.
When you walk into a place, what do you see? Different colors, a contrast between light and dark surfaces, the movement of people, and different sight lines, whether to the offices, the restrooms, or places to sit, to name a few. Sight is the first sense to be activated in a new space, and it tends to be the most important in terms of design because it begins to tell the story of what the business or home wants to share with its employees and guests. Sight needs to be considered for the range of ages and abilities of the people coming into your space, whether it is children to senior citizens, able-bodied to disabled persons, including visually impaired people as well.
- Put glazing on 90 degree corners so you can see someone coming and don't run into them.
The next sense that is stimulated is sound. This can be in the form of different sounds – conversations taking place, footsteps and chairs moving on the floor, or pots and pans being used in a kitchen. A few ways to help temper these noises is through sound machines that either play soft music or white noise in the background, good acoustical walls and ceilings, and adding in soft surfaces to help absorb sounds, including rugs, sofas, upholstered chairs or curtains.
- Design a space with more "spring" to the floor to accommodate a deaf person. For a person who is deaf and can't hear another person coming, they can pick up the vibrations in the floor and know someone is there.
- Use automatic doors when possible, so when people are holding a conversation in sign language, they don't have to stop their conversation to open the door.
Touch is the next sense that is fully engaged while being in a space because it involves both active and passive touch. Active touch involves physically touching things to feel their textures, whether it is hard or soft, hot or cold, slippery or rough, has contours, or has a vibration. These are the different types of touch that are commonly thought of. However, there is also passive touch, which includes the air moving around you, as well as the temperature and humidity in the space. It can affect a person’s comfort level. The air moving around in the space can also introduce the next sense.
- For a visually impaired client we typically advocate for a zero threshold shower to help avoid a tripping hazard between the bathroom and shower.
- Use a highly textured flooring to help aid the transition between spaces or create a band of textured tiles to help lead a visually impaired person around the room. (i.e. textured band in shower leading to shower lever, or textured band in bathroom leading to a light switch).
- Use rounded corners. The lack of harsh corners and edges help visually impaired stay on track without bumping into anything.
Whether pleasant or not, smells can define a place pretty quickly, as it is strongly intertwined to a person’s memory. Having a good HVAC system that controls humidity and is cleaned regularly, as well as thorough cleaning of the space (especially the bathrooms), can help eliminate odors in the building. It is important to also take into consideration the cleaning products that are being used, as some have strong odors that are unpleasant for people. These are good practices to have, particularly for a restaurant, so that the food smells as amazing as it tastes!
- Create a signature scent that is either run through the air vent or used as an air freshener to enhance the overall smell of your space. The same can be used in a home, by having air fresheners throughout, or a batch of fresh baked cookies right out of the oven!
- We run essential oil diffusers in the office most of the time and use chemical-free cleaning products.
Unless it is a restaurant, taste can be the most difficult sense to design for. However, it can be incorporated through adding a coffee bar station with delicious coffee into the office, having a comfortable break room that provides healthy snacks for employees, and offering happy hours, since it is proven that people tend to bond more when they are eating and drinking together, which in turn creates a happier, more connected work place!
When really looking at each of the five senses, the ideas for designing a better space start to come out in more ways than you initially realize, which helps develop a more comprehensive multisensory experience. This can be simplified to represent the final sense – to be. Designing a space is really all about the person, who they are and why they have chosen to be in your space. While it is difficult to make the space specific to each person, creating an inclusive environment that welcomes all who want to come makes the most sense!