As a designer I'm fascinated by things; gadgets, appliances, devices and products but what really excites me is what makes something desirable. In a developed world that's full of choices, where there's nearly always more than one of something, how do we make what we're designing the product that gets scooped off the shelves?

As a product designer within consumer product development, much of our training is focused around what the eye sees. We are taught to understand form, how intersecting surfaces can create sharp edges, how manipulating form can make it seem as if it is simply melting away and to apply an eye for detail so that every angle looks superb.

This is clearly a solid approach, not only has it been the success of many well-known products but I know from my own experience and behaviour that I am drawn to things that look a certain way. Whether it is the mechanical simplicity of my angle poise or the slim subtle curves of my iPad, aesthetics have played a big part. However, in concentrating on aesthetics so heavily, are we missing another dimension of product appeal?



Attending the Cambridge Science Festival lecture, "The Role of Touch in Consumer Behaviour" gave some answers to this question. Fundamentally, vision is one of our most dominant senses, so focussing on this as a means for product appeal is an incredibly good starting point. However, what Dr Jansson-Boyd highlighted is that our perception of the world, of others and even of what we are about to buy is a culmination of all of our senses. Utilising a multi-sensory approach is a powerful tool for controlling consumer behaviour, one in which companies have been adopting for some time. One of the most interesting applications are fast food chains that rely on a fast turnover of people and hence create an environment where, whilst enjoying your fries, you are receiving subliminal messages that you should leave by simply sitting you on some of the hardest seats obtainable.

While a multi-sensory approach is clearly powerful, there is something uniquely fascinating about touch. It is clear to see, through MRI scanning, that our sense of touch is highly linked to the creation of emotion. Couple this with the fact that when we touch something our feeling of ownership increases, and when our feeling of ownership increases so does perceived value; we can begin to see how influential the sense of touch might be to consumer appeal.

Saying this, touch is a sense that until recently has been largely under researched. Details on what textures, surfaces, materials and sensations evoke positive or negative reactions are in their infancy and so, I am sure to the disappointment of many, there is no library to consult on what finish you should specify on your latest product range, not yet at least. But, knowledge is power. With touch highlighted as such a powerful sense, as designers we should all be devoting time to explore this sense, whether merely keeping tabs on the latest research or ensuring that user trails explore touch and its effects much more. "The Role of Touch in Consumer Behaviour" didn't answer all my questions but it certainly highlighted that, as designers, we should be in touch with all of our senses.

Sophia Godfrey

Sophia is a Product Designer at Cambridge Consultants, graduating in Industrial Design at Loughborough University. Having worked for a large UK technology company specialising in mass manufactured consumer products, she has expertise in user centred design, product styling, visual communication and design for manufacture.