Research #3 - All 5 Senses

Before I kick off my 3rd and final media experiment, my research this week took me down the avenue of discovering where the acknowledgments of using all 5 (traditional) senses are currently being fostered withing design and new media. Some sensory modalities are more established than others within the world of art and new media, and I'm keen to get a sense (excuse the pun) of what the state of play is on this front at present. The first thing I discovered on the hunt to bring myself up to speed with the latest, was this wonderful talk from industrial designer Jinsop Lee, where he talks about his 5-sense theory for product design:

From my perspective, the ideas put forward in this talk are refreshing! To see an individual who is concerned with product design - i.e. the 'material', consider all sensory modalities that surround such artifacts... that is something really resonates with me from a creative perspective. On this level this is something that I feel is equally important to the world of art and new media. However, I began to reflect on the nature of Lee's graph (shown in the video above) in relation to my own aspirations for my praxis at present. What I'm not keen on here is that Lee's graph promotes a somewhat fixed 'target-based system' - i.e. to reach "10" with all of the senses, and as a result achieve a plateau of "perfect product design". Don't get me wrong, it totally makes sense within the context of his use case, but for me, this would be a polarising option that would limit the range of creativity that my toolkit could foster. How so? Well, the way I see it, all senses 'turned up to 11' as it were, would result in a homogonous loudness - a sensory landscape with no dynamics (a notion that summons the imagery of 'steamroll compressed' audio mastering; a result of the music industry's infamous loudness war). If preserving fidelity and dynamic range is important when working in a monomodal fashion (i.e. with audio, with visuals), then surely fidelity and dynamic range will need to be preserved when working in a polymodal/multimodal configuration? I'm starting to feel that in order to deal with this, what I need instead is a topology of the senses that appreciates and signposts the value of all combinations and intensities. My praxis should not, and will not encourage that all sensory modalities have to be 'maxed out' in any creative media project, but that different configurations of each will enable you as a maker to achieve different goals within your work and the shape the way that people experience your work. (I've experienced practical evidence of this just recently with my recent experiment, The Audio Puzzle). After all - I'm striving towards a resource that shows you what you need to be made aware of, not a right-or-wrong target-based system that would encourage people to push the design of their projects towards a standardised configuration. My multimodal praxis is going a toolkit of knowing, not instructive doing; a compendium of ingredients, not a cookbook of recipes. After this fruitful reflection, I continued to cast my net elsewhere, and began to look into commercial avenues where multisensory experiences were being capitalised on. So, I decided to pay the store in Cardiff City Centre a visit:


Here we have an established and successful high street store, specialising in eco-friendly, vegan-friendly bathroom and health products, who are developing multisensory experiences in the form of aromatherapy services that feature curated soundtracks! Something they've innocently stumbled upon by accident? Not a chance... just take look at this experience, it's call Synaesthesia for crying out loud! The awareness of multimodal design, and the market for this, exist. One last discovery that I made on my hunt landed me squarely in the world of new media; slap bang in the middle of my own professional heartlands. Now... this was something of which I was skeptical about at first, as I initially discovered this as yet another 'heroic tech' crowdfunding campaign... and many of which have been known to promise more than they can deliver. But after some digging, the FeelReal VR actually looks to be a promising candidate for successfully pulling the chemical sensory modalities into the realm of accessible consumer media technology:


Feelreal features a scent dispensing module that is situated below the usual binocular form-factor of your standard VR headset. They claim to have developed a reliable scent generator, that holds an easily replaceable cartridge which contains 9 individual aroma capsules. You can select and combine any of the 255 scents available in their store, and install and change them depending on the type of VR experience you’re engaging with. So, here is a device allows you to design and curate the olfactory experience of 'passive' and interactive audiovisual media. Not to mention it features haptic technology as well! ...of which help simulate mechanical touch responses and air temperature. So there we have it! Design, retail, and entertainment are all seeing unique efforts in our transition into wider sensory experiences. Only 8-10 years ago this reared its head with the emergence of 4D cinema experience (ARGH! Sorry... I hate the name of this so, SO much) but now we find ourselves at a crossroads where technology has become sophisticated enough that creative control over our senses won't just be limited to pixels and speaker cones. It's coming, and I'm excited by the prospect of keeping this in mind as I begin to develop my praxis for multimodal creativity. The largely uncharted nature of olfactory and gustatory modalities within new media presents many exciting opportunities, and I'm excited to explore this for the first time with a wide range of people later this week! So, for one last time in this research and development process - watch this space for the latest experiment updates; its time for me to explore the chemical senses!

Copyright © Leigh Davies 2020