Can we Design Mobile Experiences for the Five Senses?

Can we design apps for the 5 senses
01 Dec 2013

I have just finished listening to Jinsop Lees Ted Talk, designing for the 5 senses. It prompted me to consider how well we are designing mobile experiences for the 5 senses. According to Jinsop Lees, if we can enhance one or more of the sensory experiences then we can improve the overall experience. So how are we tracking in mobile design?


1. Sight

With all the user experience and mobile design experts, coupled with the rich data we have in the app store which provides us with actual data on what millions of consumers around the world determine to be a great mobile design, I am still constantly surprised at how some of the big brands still get this wrong. With SME’s the main restriction is generally budget and I am not suggesting the big guys have unlimited budget, but what we see on mobile is such a fundamental part of the mobile experience.

In June 2013, Apple awarded the Yahoo Weather App an apple design award, citing it as ‘beautifully re-imagined with gorgeous imagery and simple, clear data presentation.

This award has also been backed up by consumer sentiment with 61% positive reviews in the application store, and 79,000 consumer ratings averaging out at 4.5 stars.


2. Touch

The gesture capabilities of today’s smartphones and tablet are allowing us to take advantage of the sensory nature of touch. We have come such a long way in this area – you only need to look at a two year old trying to swipe a TV to understand that the world has been changed forever, but with imminent developments in mobile touch it is mind blowing to think of the possibilities.

Haptic technology is a huge focus for apple. It essentially fools us into thinking we are touching real world objects on our mobile devices, by allowing the user to feel textures on screen. Imagine when you can touch clothes on your mobile phone or immerse yourself more fully in a gaming experience through the sense of touch.

Disney recently carried out a research study which looked at how friction can create an artificial sense of texture, leading a user to feel like they are actually touching an object they see on the screen. Disney believes, as do I, that such of use of technology increases the effectiveness of touch interactions, but also leads to more realistic and satisfying experience for millions of users.


3. Sound

This is probably one of the simplest areas in which we fail on in mobile – often resorting to simplistic beeping, ding dongs, or just no sound at all.

Professor Charles Spence of Oxford University is a specialist in multi-sensory perception. He recently conducted a number of studies with well-known restaurants in the UK that showed if we are listening to certain sounds when eating specific foods it brings out different flavours dependant on what we are listening to. For example, the sonic cake pop experiment played two different sounds. They found that you can bring out the sweetness in the desert by playing high pitch sounds and bring out the bitterness of the desert by playing low pitch sounds. In the Fat Duck you can listen to sounds of the sea on your mobile device whilst eating seafood.

You may be thinking ‘what the hell as this got to do with mobile?’

We all know when we walk into a retail store, that music playing can make that experience more pleasurable and even drive us to shop more. The calming music that plays in a spa helps us to relax. This can all be applied to mobile sensory experiences.


4. Smell

The ability to smell experiences on a mobile seems like something from a sci-fi movie, however the technology is here and it is happening, of course in Japan. Scentee is a device that plugs into your smartphone and lets users receive scented alerts, emails, Facebook likes etc. Scentee’s app can send a variety of smells, including rose, mint, curry, jasmine, cinnamon roll, lavender, apple, strawberry and corn soup. The Korean BBQ scents feature two meat smells and a baked potato scent.


5. Taste

Dr. Nimesha Ranasinghe, of Keio-NUS CUTE center, has been trying to digitally simulate taste and smell sensations for the past five years. He has come up with a digital simulator that you can place on your tongue, which replicates the taste of real world food. Again, far fetched but the technology is there.


Imagine this……

A beautifully designed application. When you open it at lunch time it plays the sounds of India. You can smell the curry and taste the dish of the day on the digital sensor.


A retailer app, that plays uplifting music when you open it, recommends outfits based on your size, spending ability and purchase habits, then lets you feel the fabric….

These all may seem like the crazy dream of a mad mobile person but I believe there is a huge opportunity to improve the mobile experience based on the 5 senses or at least some of them…. Anyone interested in partnering on a study? Email me


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