Environments III — Design, behaviour and social interaction

aisha dev
8 min readJan 30, 2018


Observing and recording patterns and behaviours in a designed space.

I think the idea that we live in a world of physicalised intent is really interesting, there are embedded intelligent systems in everything we interact with and this project is about looking to find and decode the complex patterns that interact with these systems.

Initial Brainstorming

  1. How we design our eating — countries where people only eat with their hands, where family members feed each other. How does activating another sense while eating change our relationship with what we’re eating and who we’re eating with.
  2. How things are designed to be flexible for and individual vs. a community. How does that flexibility change?
  3. What is tactile intelligence and how much does it influence our interactions?

I started looking at how this tactile understanding of food affects our behaviour and our connection with the people around us.

Dr David Linden in his book, Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind, says that a complex set of biological structures and networks work to create touch and that it is crucial to our unique human experience.

He says that the first pathway of the sensory experience of touch is learning facts about our environments, it is a way of passive information processing. “It’s all about figuring out the facts, and it uses sequential stages of processing to gradually build up tactile images and perform the recognition of objects.” According to him, the second pathway of touch is crucial in developing an emotional vocabulary through direct interaction with other physical bodies. He emphasises the interpersonal and social relations that are built through touch.

Touch also affects child development, it is crucial in socialising children as well as building certain biological functions like healthy immune and digestive systems.

This got me thinking about how touch has been used therapeutically.

Professional cuddling services
Weighted blankets to relieve anxiety

Touch and the holistic tactile experience of pressure and weight have an affect on how we react to the physical world and how we construct our own reality around ourselves.

Through the digital spaces that we now live in, we lose a lot of tactile literacy so I wanted to see how the loss of touch decreases our emotional intelligence.

I started to first look at how online platforms have started to accommodate or translate textures and physical experiences. I shop online quite a bit so I looked at how different online stores try to include or exclude textural understanding of their products.

I first looked at websites varying in quality and price points.

Acne Studios
The Line by K
Everlane, Urban Outfitters

There were some online platforms that tended to be more expensive than cheap fast fashion brands. Typically these brands were higher in quality and emphasised the textural nature of their products.

Fashion Nova
Forever 21

Lower quality fast fashion brands avoided showcasing the textural nature of their items.

A Tactile Footprint

All the things that I touched in 36 hours

I started to document all the textures that I actively noticed moving through the world. I was surprised at how many random things I came across and only remember now because I documented them. This is like a textural diary of my environment over the past 36–48 hours containing a lot of the information is passively received about my space.

Since so much of our time is spent in digital environments, I wanted to see how people understood the materiality of their frequently used digital spaces.

I asked five participants to tell me about the material and textural nature of the websites they spend the most time on.

Participant I

24 year old working professional


Time spent on website — 1 hour a day

Materiality — The first participant described this as a digital cinema where things were quite quiet and muted. “I think texturally, this might feel like a blank black room, but not in a scary way, in a way that relatively invisible.”

Participant II

57 year old businesswoman in the fashion industry


Time spent on website — 8–12 hours a week

Materiality— This participant described Pinterest more in terms of clothing; “Pinterest is definitely a more architectural Alberta Ferretti. Like Zaha met Alberta Feretti and made a website.” They seemed to have more of a textural literacy and could pinpoint the style and nature of the webstie.

Participant III

21 year old Math & Psych major


Time spent on website — 10 hours a week

Materiality — This person described Youtube as a very clean space, they said when they thought of it didn’t imagine feeling anything viscerally, that it was relatively “cold and inconspicuous.”

Participant IV

22 year old Tepper student


Time spent on website— 5–8 hours a week

Materiality— This person described Reddit as a teenage boy’s room. They said it was full of “trinkets and other cool and gross stuff that you don’t always want to stumble upon.”

Participant V

20 year old Statistics major


Time spent on website— 7–12 hours a week

Materiality—This person described Buzzfeed as an elementary school yearbook or an old school Tiger Beat magazine. They said that if it was a thing they owned, they wouldn’t trust it or value it.

Interview Findings—

I think it was interesting to see how people described digital environments. None of these people were designers and a few of them weren’t in or around Pittsburgh. Almost everyone seemed to compare their digital spaces to physical spaces or things they had interacted with.

I think the personalities they imbued into these websites— like a teenage boy’s bedroom— was also interesting to note.