Expanding Your Senses

Although this chapter is mainly about rhythm, it really comes down to expressing one sense with another. In this lesson, I provide several fascinating examples of how this has been done.

Chapter 6: Rhythm

Kinesthetic Empathy

This is the first chapter in which we start thinking much more abstractly. One of the key terms to be familiar with in this chapter is "kinesthetic empathy". This effect refers to when we use visual design to represent things from other senses. For example, when we see an icon of a speaker or a phone with curvy lines coming from it to represent sound, or when you see a cartoon where green stink lines slowly rise from an old piece of fish or a garbage can, we are witnessing the practice of kinesthetic empathy.

We will be exploring ways that we can use visual queues to take our design to a deeper level. Art and design are all about expanding our senses and getting us to experience the world in a deeper way. Poetry uses very strategic words to get us to imagine the more emotional or sensory aspects of an experience rather than explaining something very literally.

Our Job as Designers & Artists

As designers, we are tasked with a unique job of using visual design to evoke other senses. Think about one of your favorite shows, songs, or movies. What makes them so great? A song isn't JUST a bunch of notes and sounds, it touches us on an emotional level. It gets us to engage a deeper part of our being. Filmmakes aren't successful just by shooting a scene exactly as it's described in the script. Great filmmakes go to enormous lengths to interweave things like lighting, music, camera angles, acting, props, and much more to take us on an emotional ride.

As a designer, you are trying to do the same thing. Think about any successful commercial, billboard, or magazine ad. It didn't just say "buy this product; it's good", but rather used a combination of color, design, imagery, fonts, references and more to really make an impact.

My goal for you in this chapter is to have you dig deeper when creating a design. I want you to consider all the senses and emotions when creating your layout. I've provided many examples below to show you how it's been done.

The Five+ Senses

It's commonly accepted that we only have five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, but many argue that we have many more then that. For example, orientation, temperature, movement.

Visualizing Sound

Disney's Fantasia

Fantasia may be one of the first well-known music videos. It was a beautiful attempt at merging sight and sound into a single experience. As you watch this clip, pay close attention to the various instruments and how they are represented by the various elements in the scene.


Ryoichi Kurokawa - Synthetic Sensory Stimulation

This is a perfect example of an artist marrying sound and visuals together. The visuals translate the music seamlessly using computer programming and video software.

Quietest Room in the World

Sound absortion is very important when it comes to recording audio for albums and podcasts or measuring the loudness of certain things. In one case, a room has been engineered to be so sound absorbant, that it has been titled by the Guiness Book of World Records as the quietest room in the world. The it is so quiet in fact, that people have had audio hallucinations because of their brain's need to have some sort of sensory input.


Mr. Holland's Opus - Visualizing Sound

The film Mr. Holland's Opus tells the story of a high school music teacher's emotional struggle of having a deaf son who, he fells, cannot relate to his passion for music. At a certain point in the film, Mr. Holland is able to use technology that will convert the sound waves and frequencies into a light show. This is a perfect example of kinesthetic empathy.


Explaining Color

I once heard a quote that went something like this:

Person One: "The human imagination is limiteless." Person two: "Yeah? Imagine a new color".

Have you ever tried to actually do this? It's pretty much impossible since we have discovered every color frequency in the visual spectrum and have used computers to generate millions of colors. But let's say you could think of a brand new color that no one had ever seen. How would you describe it to them? Would you describe it by comparing it to other colors? Would you use other senses like hearing or smell to describe it? Would you use completely non-color-related terms to describe it?

In this section, I've provided some examples of literature and actual people who have attempted to tackle color when they themselves had no physical way to observe it.

The Giver - Describing Color in a Black-and-White World

You may have read this book in elementary or middle school. I remember being fascinated by the concept of trying to describe color in a black-and-white wolrd. I've included one of my favorite passages in that book in which the main character is trying to describe color in non-color terms.

There had been nothing special about it; it was an activity that he had performed countless times: throw, catch; throw, catch. […] But suddenly Jonas had noticed, following the path of the apple through the air with his eyes, that the piece of fruit had- well, this was the part that he couldn’t adequately understand - the apple had changed. Just for an instant. It had changed in mid-air, he remembered. Then it was in his hand, and he looked at it carefully, but it was the same apple. Unchanged. The same size and shape; a perfect sphere. The same nondescript shade, about the same shade as his own tunic.

There was absolutely nothing remarkable about the apple. He had tossed it back and forth between his hands a few times, then thrown it again to Asher. And again - in the air, for an instant only - it had changed.

Colorblind Man Hears Color

This colorblind man, who consideres himself an actual cyborg, has had technology literally wired into his body that allows him to observe color. Through the use of pairing different sound frequencies with different colors, he can literally "hear" color. He then went on to reverse the direction by converting sound bites into color and describes speeches and songs in terms of color.

Blind Man Explains Color

Have you ever wondered what it is like for a blind person to imagine color? Now is your chance to hear first-hand.

Translating Touch

Seeing with Tongue

Technology still has not reached a point where we can restore complete sight to the blind, but we're getting there. One unique method has been translating a black and white image into electrical impulses on a small flat surface placed on the tongue. The soldier who has been using this technology describes the experience like having someone write something on his hand with their finger.

Visualizing Taste

If you have ever gone to a gormet restaurant or wine tasting or beer tasting event, or ever tried a new food, it's often hard to explain the flavor's you're experiencing. We have our familiar descriptive words like sour, spicy, sweet, salty, bitter, and so forth, but how do you describe the different between something like a lemon and a lime or garlic and onions? At some point, the differences become much more subtle.

Pixar's Ratatouille Visualizing Taste

In this Pixar film about a rat and a young chef in Paris, food is the main topic. At several points in the film, they attempt to visualize the way things taste through abstract animations. Check it out.

Sideways: Describing Wine on a Deeper Level

Sideways is a hilarious and thought-provoking film about to wine-connoisseurs who visit wine country in California. In the following scenes, they very poetically and thoughtfully describe the wine in a much deeper way than just flavor, but dive into the actual process of cultivating it.

Sense of Smell

Why do we have two noses

This video explores the science behind smell and senses.


As always, please email me if you have any questions! jearley1@ivytech.edu