Reflection — week 7 & 8

Sensory walking research a phenomenological approach to understanding and heightened perception

Fig 1. Week 7 & 8 reflective journal by Kate.

7th and 8th week reflection


I headed into this fortnight with a new structure for A2 assignment, inspired by the phenomenological framework in Akama and Prendville’s 2013 paper. The paper helped reframe my own understanding of my process to creating knowledge and understanding about Montsalvat. It also provided a great structure to reflect my mid-way point — using the ‘being’, ‘becoming’ and the ‘transformation’ as key stages of change.

I also conducted sensory walking research with customers and staff and finally got it! It really is does do what it says on the tin — heightened insight to participant experiences via sensory information exchange — beautiful!

Key insights from the fortnight

Phenomenology links service design and sensory anthropology.
Akama and Prendville’s 2013 paper was a pretty important link assignment2 (an overview of my midway point on this project). They apply the approach to co-design, and consider the process “as a reflexive, embodied process of discovery and actualization, and it is an integral, on-going activity of designing services” (Akama and Prendville 2013, p 30).

Put simply, phenomenology provides insight into a customers lived experience, and reveals unlocked and tacit knowledge used to feed our design decisions .

Fig. 2, 3, 4 — sensory walking research photos from video by Kate.

Poetically Akama and Prendville 2013, find another link to Pink via Ingold (seminal anthropologist) who understands “the social world as a tangle of threads or life-paths, ever ravelling here and unravelling there, within which the task for any being is to improvise a way through, and to keep on-going. Lives are bound up in the tangle” (Akama and Prendville 2013, p. 30).

Akama and Prendville 2013 apply the analogy of entanglement to service design — viewing the act of co-designing services as being, becoming and constantly transforming the multiple connected entanglements.

What is phenomenology?
Some excerpts (below), from Stanford’s philosophy encyclopedia hopefully illustrate how this approach underpins sensory sensory walking research as a method to obtain heightened insights into a customers perception of service experience and insights to their imagined futures.

The discipline of phenomenology may be defined initially as the study of structures of experience, or consciousness...
...phenomenology studies the structure of various types of experience ranging from perception, thought, memory, imagination, emotion, desire, and volition to bodily awareness, embodied action, and social activity, including linguistic activity...
…Furthermore, in a different dimension, we find various grounds or enabling conditions — conditions of the possibility — of intentionality, including embodiment, bodily skills, cultural context, language and other social practices, social background, and contextual aspects of intentional activities. Thus, phenomenology leads from conscious experience into conditions that help to give experience its intentionality…
…Phenomenology studies structures of conscious experience as experienced from the first-person point of view, along with relevant conditions of experience. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, the way it is directed through its content or meaning toward a certain object in the world…
…We all experience various types of experience including perception, imagination, thought, emotion, desire, volition, and action… (Stanford 2013).

Sensory walking research characteristics.
Pink describes it as “a phenomenological research method that attends to sensorial elements of human experience and place-making”, it supports the researcher to learn empathically about their experiences, and communicating understandings to others, (Pink 2007, p. 240).

Fig. 5, 6, 7 — sensory walking research photos from video by Kate.

Pink (2007 pp240–243) outlines the methods characteristics:

  • Deeper ‘senses of place’ are obtained.
  • Sensory embodied experiences are shared.
  • Feelings are used to convey the place.
  • Returned visits provide deeper sensory knowledge and understanding of the complexities and entanglements.
  • Shared sensory embodied experiences reveal, “identifies, moralities, values, beliefs and concerns
  • Walking contributes to place-making and the creation of meaning.
  • Place is increasingly being considered as a sensory phenomenon
  • The act of walking is a multi-sensory activity tied to sociality to create understanding.
  • The act of movement and use of walking as a tool aids perception and potential for shared empathic understanding.

And when combined with video:
Creates a really powerful record of the moment through the participants eyes, and collaborative route to the understanding — for the researcher to understand better after the act, or to be communicated to create new meaning to wider audiences including the service stakeholders.

Sensory walking research — it works!
My interviews with both customers and staff were incredibly powerful to understanding their experiences on a deeper level and unlock tacit knowledge and stories.

I shared the participants ‘experience of place’, via nostalgic childhood memories of the outdoors and being in nature. These memories turned into reflections on the importance of creativity and play for children born into the tech revolution. And included pondering on possible future experiences that might be valued.

Fig. 8, 9, 10 — sensory walking research photos from video by Kate.

I experienced participants expressing unabashed, deep joy for being in a place that felt like they were not in Melbourne. Their use of expressive sensory language to describe the way the architecture, buildings, and recycled elements felt. The love of the wonky chimney breasts and grounds that reminded them of being in the UK. Their transportation to imagined futures with blazing fires, pontoon lighting and candelabras, with flagstone underfoot. And expressive gestures of admiration for the stain-glass windows, and uniqueness of the handmade surrounds and joy of being in a very creative environment where everything was unique and handmade.

I also shared their imagined moments for the future when we discussed potential goals and services and how they might relate to themselves and their families. Importantly, not only had sensory walking research given me insight to customer and service stakeholder experiences that I had both not imagined, or understood — it was the connections and rapport that was also established during these moments that made the participants more invested in the potential futures and willing to contribute with deep consideration — because they felt at ease and connected.

Fig. 11, 12, 13 — sensory walking research photos from video by Kate.

The method sets up a natural exchange where the participant is in control, and relaxed discussion — making it more likely to obtain more natural insights into the experience we’re trying to understand.

Embodied learning.
I was excited and surprised when I re-read Pinks 2007 ‘Walking with Video’ to see that pretty much all of what she had outlined had happened. Another moment where I had my embodied learning style reinforced, before conducting the method it was a bit of an interesting mystery — but words on a screen. It wasn’t until I tested it that I had first hand knowledge and really understood its power — bringing me to Akama and Prendville’s 2013 observation;

“There is no method until it is invoked. The designer’s knowledge changes, and so the subsequent method they perform and enact, as they engage, observe and ‘make’ things with others” (Light & Akama 2012 in Akama & Prendville 2013).

Fig. 14 — sensory walking research photos from video by Kate.

Next steps
Adobe premiere…


  • Akama, Y and Prendiville, A 2013, ‘A phenomenology of co-designing services: the craft of embodying, enacting and entangling design’, in Mina Dennert (ed.) Crafting the Future: Proceedings of the 10th European Academy of Design Conference, Gothenburg, Sweden, 17–19 April 2013, pp. 1–16.
  • Pink, S 2007, ‘Walking with video’, Visual Studies, vol. 22, no. 3, pp.240–252.
  • Standford 2013, ‘Phenomenology’, webpage, 16 Dec 2013, viewed 5 May 2017, <>.