Exhibition title wall by David Genco (Luxembourgian, born 1985); Photo: Matt Flynn ? Smithsonian Institution

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0100, The Senses: Design Beyond Vision

Design activates our senses. Today, many designers are focusing attention on multisensory experiences, expanding beyond design’s traditional emphasis on visible form. Offering dozens of opportunities to encounter design through touching, smelling, listening, and interacting as well as looking, The Senses: Design Beyond Vision celebrates our varied ways of exploring the world and experiencing joy and wonder.

Sensory design is physical. Design touches us, and we touch back. A chair supports the body. A tool fits in the hand. Tableware changes our experience of food. Every material—wool or wood, paper or plastic—has its own sound, surface, weight, and smell.

Sensory design enhances experience. Designers are experimenting with new materials and technologies to harness the power of the senses and heighten design’s impact and reach. Smart materials respond to temperature and light. Digital interfaces communicate via sound and haptic feedback. Software translates sonic data into visual or tactile forms.

Sensory design is inclusive. By activating multiple senses, designers embrace users with different needs. Every person has unique sensory abilities, which change over the course of a lifetime. Tactile maps facilitate mobility and knowledge for blind and sighted users. Audio devices translate sound into vibrations felt on the skin. Tools for the kitchen and bathroom use color and form to guide people living with dementia or vision loss.

This exhibition explores extraordinary work by some of the world’s most creative thinkers, presenting experimental prototypes and practical solutions that extend the sensory richness of our world. We hope you will leave with a heightened understanding of how your different senses work together to shape the meaning of products, spaces, and media.


The Senses: Design Beyond Vision is made possible by the generous support of Delta Faucet Company. Additional support is provided by the Barbara and Morton Mandel Design Gallery Endowment Fund, the Ehrenkranz Fund, and Edward and Helen Hintz. Funding is also provided by Jesse Ormond Sanderson, Jr. and Robert Keith Black, Amita and Purnendu Chatterjee, New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council Exhibition design by Studio Joseph Exhibition graphics by David Genco Curated by Ellen Lupton, Senior Curator of Contemporary Design, and Andrea Lipps, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Design, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Exhibition voiced by Michele Spitz; Generously provided by Woman of Her Word In-kind support provided by Tretford Americas Accessible Exhibition Guide designed and produced by Sina Bahram and Joshua Lerner, Prime Access Consulting Project lead: Pamela Horn, Director of Cross-Platform Publishing and Strategic Partnerships, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Curatorial assistant: Julia Pastor, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Audio tour voiced by Michele Spitz, edited by Cliff Hahn; generously provided by Woman of Her Word

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This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition The Senses: Design Beyond Vision.

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