the cortical homunculus (translated)

i have finally got round to translating the piece on ‘tactile design’ i wrote for papier hier back in august, see below…


See this: the ‘Cortical Homunculus’ an amusing name and a fascinating depiction (or is it an infographic?) of the relationship between the body and the mind, or rather a kind of google maps of the senses. I stumbled upon it via Wikipedia in search of a definition of the term tactile. Exactly what does it mean?. Funnily enough Wikipedia didn’t have an answer, although i did find this piece:

Touch (in the tactile sense) is the ability of an organism to perceive (or acknowledge) pressure. This senses’ ability to perceive is called feeling.

Right, exactly…

Soon afterwards I realised that ‘Papier Hier’ is organised by a paper distributor. Antalis, a company that is highly connected to the term ‘tactile’. So I politely decided to look it up in an old (lovely, stale-smelling) dictionary printed on 60 grams rough uncoated stock and there it was; brief, clear and understandable:

“tactile: tangible, touchable” aha… I see

Tactile design. On the one hand a rather fashionable term in design circles since the past say 3, 4, 5, or 6 years. Also a term that has kept design book publishers pretty busy. In my opinion it is a term that can be rather broadly interpreted. Certainly in a field like design that is so susceptible to the winds of change, fresh ideas / visions and the latest ‘new black’.

Full disclosure: I am a designer and much of my own work also gets described (by others) in that fashion. Visitors, students and journalists always seem to be most preoccupied with those parts of my work that could be deemed to be ‘tactile’. Whichever way you look at it; it is definitely a phenomenon that is ‘in the air’ right now, of which more later.

Although when it comes to tactility, much like other trendy terms (such as infographics) there really is nothing new under the sun. Take for example, the renowned ‘boek van ptt’ created by Piet Zwart in 1938. He, in turn, was strongly influenced by the russian avant-garde and everything that was ‘in flux’ in the art world at that time. His book is, for me, a rare and admirable example of how a playful mind plus an urge to experiment can lead to innovation.

On the other hand the considerable interest in tactility, haptic design, revival of old & forgotten techniques and handmade work is a logical and easily explained shift in this digital age. Screens are playing a greater and greater role in how people come into contact with design. Separated from each other by a thin sheet of glass, perhaps we are aching more than ever for a tangible environment. Not just for rather shabby visual metaphors like fake e-book pages that ‘turn’ or cameras bereft of moving parts that say ‘click’ when you shoot.

We are searching for authenticity and tangible experiences, to once again use the whole spectrum of our senses. The world is becoming more complex and movement in one direction inevitably leads to movement occurring in the opposite sense. What i have noticed personally is that the younger generation (the so-called digital natives) are the most fanatical when it comes to finding new forms of expression beyond merely their (native) digital one. A noteworthy and highly interesting observation to my mind.

Newborn babies are fleetingly (almost) blind and instinctively forced into using the remaining senses: taste, smell and sound. In other words, it’s in our nature. Embracing other methods to express myself & learning new processes has at least in my own case lead to a richer, more playful, uncertain and exciting range of experiences. It has never been a question of being anti-computer, quite the opposite. Rather a question of making sure i have all of the available options at my disposal and making sure i employ them too.

Terms that come to mind when considering the word ‘tactile’:

• hands on, physical, sensory
• revealing & dissecting the process, a disregard for perfection
• playfulness, temporary
• more honest and individual work
• employing more dimensions, more depth
• more realistic, authentic, approachable, touchable
• celebrate humanity and imperfection instead of fearing them

Perhaps tactility isn’t just a question of touch but rather about our ability to ‘feel’. How something comes about, what it represents, our capacity for empathy and how we explain and share the things that matter with each other.
That would certainly feel good.

me studio, 24th aug. ’12

m / 03-12-2012 09:40 - tags: , , ,  

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