Multisensory Experience Design Research Methods

Experience design as a discipline runs the gambit from human factors to fine arts. We experience reality from a variety of senses. As experience designers, we map out the affect of each cue along our audiences’ journey with the five senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, smell – the more senses engage, the more memorable the experience.

Design agency, Core77, suggests these five design research approaches to address the multisensory experiences:

  1. Observe the environment. Take note with all your senses of the environment and whether aspects of it might obscure sensory cues.
  1. Test with an eye toward cultural and interpersonal context. Do your homework and ensure an understanding of the cultural differences of your target audience.
  1. Build sensory info into your user personas. Designers are great at including info about demographics, interests, brand preferences, and general form preferences in their user personas. One aspect that’s usually left out, even though it is never uniform or constant, is a persona’s sensory intake profile. But the way people process stimuli—their ability to see and to hear, their tactile sensitivity—changes with age.And there are always unique factors—someone who’s performed physical work for a long time may have calloused hands and lessened tactile sensitivity; the spectrum of audible frequencies narrows with age, and a very effective audible feedback for younger user groups can be completely ineffective for older user groups.
  1. Lose your sight (or whatever sense is necessary) to walk in your users’ shoes. For example, for users with low-vision, conduct design exercises with designers wearing macular degeneration goggles to learn how the functional requirements dictated by this impairment change our perception of how some of a product’s elements should look, feel, and sound. Going into the design exercises, designing for proper usability trumps aesthetic appeal. Understand the nuances by putting yourself in the users’ shoes.One note: If you know you’re dealing with a wide range of sensory profiles, make sure you test and validate for all—you may be tempted to overplay tactile feedback to suit people with limitations. Test to make sure others don’t feel like it’s over the top.
  1. Lose your sight as a matter of habit. Train yourself to notice the sensory details by conducting “blind evaluations” of competing products during competitive analysis and of your own products and prototypes. Blindfold yourself or better yet, have some other designers evaluate the products without knowing what they are or what they do, and have them evaluate the products’ heft, weight balance, visual cues, tactical response, etc.Designers are trained to think visually, and many designers intuitively note other sensory details, but most don’t make quantifying it in a systematic way part of their process. Until you make the effort of analyzing based on what you can’t see, you can’t fully evaluate these other dimensions.