The Power Of Multi-Sensory Experiences

Written By Liz Hunt

Published March 23, 2021

a man wearing a plaid shirt and jeans walks down a wooden path in a lush green field towards verdant mountains

One of the techniques Ta and I use to create powerful user experiences is trying to engage as many human senses as possible.

Think about one of your most vivid and precious memories. Most likely you can see it as a full-color image or movie, hear what someone said or what was happening around you, and feel whatever touch or physical activity you experienced. You’re probably also able to remember what you smelled and/or how something tasted.

One of my first exposures to the concept of multi-sensory experiences came from a mindfulness exercise. Let’s try one together right now.

  1. Take three deep breaths — in and out... in and out... in and out... — focus on expanding the sides and back of your ribcage.
  2. Then, while continuing to breathe deep relaxing breaths, root yourself in this present moment by paying attention to each of your senses in turn.
  3. First, think about your sight. Look around you. What do you notice, what can you see? Think beyond object names to their color(s), pattern(s), material(s), and texture(s).
  4. Next, think about your hearing. Sometimes it helps to close your eyes. What do you notice, what can you hear? Acknowledge each sound, then listen more deeply for subtler sounds in your music, environment, or body.
  5. Now think about the smells around you. Again, sometimes it helps to close your eyes. What do you notice, what can you smell? Have you recently bathed or done laundry? Is a beverage brewing or a meal cooking? Can you identify any smells from whatever nature’s near you?
  6. It’s time to think about taste. What do you notice, what can you taste right now? Do you have minty-fresh breath? Are there any lingering flavors from your last meal? Or have you started craving your next snack?
  7. Finally, think about your body. What do you notice, what are you touching, what can you feel? Think beyond how you’re sitting/standing and the clothes you’re wearing, to acknowledging whatever sensations exist in different parts of your body. Do your fingers and toes feel cool or warm? Are the muscles in your back and shoulders relaxed or tight? What does your breath feel like as it enters and leaves your nostrils?
  8. Bonus points if you take an extra moment to think about where your body is within your environment. Close your eyes. What do you notice, what can you sense? How are you positioned relative to your chair or desk? How close or far away from your current position are the walls, ceiling, furniture, pets, and/or other people?

Engaging our senses not only helps us better remember past experiences and relax in the present, it also helps us learn faster and form stronger bonds with our friends and loved ones. The more senses that are involved, the more our brains register curiosity, enjoyment, and significance — so we learn and remember information better [Hope Springs Behavioral Consultants1]. Sensory stimulation has a long list of potential benefits (for the neurotypical as well as the neurodivergent) including improving cognitive processing and function, supporting better verbal and non-verbal communication, and encouraging participation and comfort in social situations [Connectability Australia2]. Ultimately, our communication with the environment and subsequent behavior towards other humans and our planet is enormously influenced by our sensory inputs [Vanderbilt3].

Smith Assembly believes the best experiences in life are multi-sensory. That’s why we incorporate sensorial design into our workshops and also ask our global innovators to invoke the senses when they introduce themselves and their communities.