Friday, 20 March 2015

Touch vs. Sight

Part of my research into Material & Emotional Values

Visceral (adjective): relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect.

Tasked with the job of looking into visceral design, I began by defining how we classify visceral design, and how we can segment our subconscious responses to make analysis easier.

The way we respond to things (outside of culture and emotion) is dictated by our subconscious mind; it tells us when to run away, what to be repulsed by and who to find the most attractive and is hard-wired into every human to try and increase their chances of survival.  These reactions can be broadly grouped into 4 main categories of self-preservation:

Food // Shelter // Danger // Reproduction

Find something cute? If it's big eyes and large proportioned head mimic those of a baby, it's your subconscious telling you to nurture it - that goes under reproduction.

Find something disgusting? From open wounds to mouldy food, that's you subconscious telling you not to go near it because it could make you ill - danger.

Is that M&S food advert making you salivate? That's your food response.

And shelter? Well, that's more difficult to define but revolves around protection and security.

I started off by attempting to find deliberately provocative pieces, but this proved more difficult than I has envisioned and so I started analysing designs that I had previously felt a reaction to.

Alquimista, 2003 - Robert Stadler: Detail taken  from 21st Century Design by Marcus Fairs
Robert Stadler's Alquimista lamp with its shag-pile appearance looks invitingly touchable, asking you to run your fingers through its tasseled fur.

I realised pretty quickly after looking at this design that my flat is filled with soft furnishings just like this.  I have a vivid green deep pile rug from Ikea that looks just just like grass, and a cushion that has dense fine curly hair that looks soft like moss.  Both of these things are immensely fun to interact with; running your hands over them or walking barefoot on the rug evokes childhood memories of being outside and playing on long grass.

Though the green colouring of my products at home produces an emotional and cultural response, Stadler's lamp is only appealing through it's texture - so why do I want to stroke it?

It turns out that the long-pile texture of this lamp produces a pleasure response in us.  The nerves in our bodies can be broadly split into two categories, fast nerve fibers, and slow nerve fibers.  Fast nerve fibers are responsible for feeling pokes, pinpricks and pressure, where as the slow nerve fibers sense deep pain, temperature and pleasant touch. Fast and slow nerve fibers are processed by different parts of the brain, with the slow nerves being processed in an area that also controls emotion (hence why deep pain and pleasant touch give us a long lasting emotional response). So why is pleasant touch related to emotion? Well, it turns out that pleasant touch (stroking, cuddling etc) helps us develop mentally to social situations - its the same ancestral bonding techniques that our nearest relatives use when social grooming, and so it fits into the shelter part of the subconscious brain!  So this lamp is an unnatural product, that evokes a response normally produced by natural interaction (human touch, running hands through hair/grass etc).

TL;DR: We want to stroke the lamp because it feels good.  It feels good because its a subconscious mental development technique used to develop social skills - shelter.