The Power of Touch


The significance of touch in human life is primary. 

Like other senses, tactility informs us about the surrounding, prevents our body from danger, contributes to the exploration of an object, but most important it has an emotional component that can give us the feeling of safety and pleasure. [1]

Yet, according to Weber (1995), tactile mechanisms are undeniably the most complex and least understood. [2]


What we term as sense of touch is not a single sense, but in fact many closely related mechanisms mediated by the somatosensory system. [2]

This produces a variety of feelings, that can be classified into four types of perception: [3]


  • Tactile perception: related solely to cutaneous stimulation.
  • Kinesthetic perception: defined as the perception from joints and muscles, by limb movement alone of hardness, viscosity, and shape. 
  • Proprioception: associated to the sense of position of the body in relation to gravity, as well as our movement through space.
  • Haptic perception: meaning both cutaneous sense and kinesthesis to convey significant information about distal objects and events.


As we can see, the haptic realm contains much richness. Even though our body as a whole is very sensitive to its environment, we many times don't have the vocabulary to communicate our tactile experience with it.

We dismiss the presence of touch altogether, but haptics can give another dimension to what design represents.

Haptic Logo. Animal hairs on silicone. Takeo Paper Show - Kenya Hara (2004)

Haptic Logo. Animal hairs on silicone. Takeo Paper Show - Kenya Hara (2004)


To showcase an opposite situation, I'd like to illustrate part of a project called the HAPTIC Exhibition, produced in 2004 by Japanese designer Kenya Hara. This was built as an experiment conceived precisely on the tactile realm.

Hara asked various creators from multidisciplinary fields (architecture, product design, textiles, graphic, interior) to design an object not based on form or color, but motivated primarily by "haptic" considerations.

No sketching was allowed. Instead they had to start designing something that would tickle the human senses. [4]


Kosuke Tsumura: Kami Tama


Additionally, the designers were given information about several new technologies applicable to design. Fashion designer Kosuke Tsumura chose the hair implant technology and applied it to traditional Japanese lanterns in cooperation with a wig maker.

The hairy surface and its combination with light shining through gives it a slightly eerie, but altogether unique look.


Naoto Fukasawa: Juice Skin


Naoto Fukasawa worked on fruit juice packaging design, and his result is fantastic and pretty clear in its purpose. The texture, the colors and the angles enrich the idea of drinking a processed juice and definitely steps up the experience if you compare it to the traditional Tetra Pack.     


Shuhei Hasado: Geta


Human feet are very sensitive. Historically they have been the only body part that was always in direct contact with the ground, so the surface of feet functions to detect vital information.  

Geta are traditional Japanese raised wooden sandals that are worn barefoot. The participation of plasterer Shuhei Tasado in the HAPTIC project took this element as his object of study and proposed covering the surface of various pairs of geta to give them a special feel. 

Imagine walking with your soles placed in saturated moss while you go through the city... 


Panasonic Design Company: Gel Remote Control

Panasonic Design Company proposed a remote control constructed of a soft, flesh-like gel, that appears asleep when off.

Left undisturbed, the device's belly slowly rises and falls, to mimic a tranquil breathing motion. But with a human hand approach, the sensor activates and it seems to come to life. It solidifies and becomes rigid, with a soft light from within.

The idea is superb in its focus on the experience and the behavior of the object.


Haptic Logo drawn with cultured mold fungus - Kenya Hara (2004)

Haptic Logo drawn with cultured mold fungus - Kenya Hara (2004)


Preference aside, these objects wouldn't have come to existence if it weren't for a fundamental question: "how do we approach the sense of touch?" 

Touch integrates our experiences. Touch gives us depth and enhances our sense of self by making us aware of the extension of our environment.

Touch gives us connection and emotion.  

We can play with so many things to re-sensualize the experience of design and give it a distinctive feel. Texture, weight, density, hardness, plasticity, viscosity – it all matters in our interaction with the designed object. 

Keep present what physicist Hermann Helmholtz said, "everything is an event on the skin."


(1) Ackerman, D. (1990) A Natural History of the Senses. New York: Vintage Books.  

(2) Prytaherch, D. (2002)  Weber, Katz and Beyond: So What is Haptics Anyway? An Introduction to Psychological Studies of Touch. Retrieved September 15, 2017 from: 

(3) Sallnas, E. (2004) The Effect of Modality on Social Presence, Presence and Performance in Collaborative Virtual Environments. Doctoral thesis. Retrieved September 10, 2017 from:

(4) Hara, K. (2011) Designing Design. Baden: Lars Müller Publishers.