Visuelle Kommunikation

Nazaneen Naddaf

The Digital Senses — Awareness of our Interactions with Digital Objects

Our Aristotelian five senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch – form a traditional model;

one that is debated and often criticized, yet engrained in our culture. Even more so, a sixth

sense is the term commonly used to describe additional modes of perception, though we are

well aware of their existence. The privileging of a particular sense over another has been a classic,

metaphysical theme debated within this model and, coupled with biology and neuroscience,

has lead to the knowledge that these senses interact with each other in complex ways to form our

temporal experiences. But one thing is fairly certain – we have advanced from primates to become

conscious, self-identified, and driven beings through our external sensory apparatus, and thus,

through our heightened senses, that helped us investigate our surrounding world.

In the field of visual communication, this five-sense model is often used to create something for our material world.

We may argue that, in this context, there is a hierarchy of the senses: namely, how we create meaning

based on what we see, or with our eyes and hands guiding our perception. The fundamental form of

the book is a prime example of this. As designers of any kind for our material world, the notions

of tactility, functionality, and embodiment are all relevant and fall back on this model, with design

presumed to be more advanced once it becomes multi-sensory. “How can we see sound or taste

shapes?” are questions visual communicators often pose, and integrate into their work.

We have had years of experience in creating things for our material world, but now our visual bandwidth is changing; the information realm we have been creating is merely the result of a few decades. With the rise of what may be known as the “digital turn”, we are building a kind of alternate reality that lives on wide-screens and hand-held devices. We design content, interfaces, and tools to help experience and communicate with this realm, but in turn, we are also the designers of the computers’ sense-based response. It is only natural that the focus will remain on imitation rather than creation, as we are the sole creators of both these worlds – at least for the moment.

That being said, the relationship between body and machine has reached a techno-sensual level of comfortable numbness: a numbness to bodily positions, to tactile tools, to information reception. Thus, the aim of this thesis is to question how we can reconnect with or revitalize our senses when interacting with digital objects. Through what may be called sensory exaggeration, the practical work that accompanies our research challenges the notion of “standard” digital experiences, namely our common interactions with personal computers and their complementary tools. The empirical nature of these experiments cannot propose new methods of designing for our digital world, but it can create an incentive towards further investigating ways in which we become aware of what we are creating, how this affects our perception of digital objects and environments, and what it could mean for the future of human-computer interaction.

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