Davide Antonio Gambera

Synesthetic design for health and well-being: a multidimensional model for a sensory-centred design development.


Emília DuarteIADE, Universidade Europeia, Laureate International University
Dina Riccò, Politecnico di Milano


In traditional design approaches, the consideration of human senses is often incorporated in the later phases of product development, affecting the design decision mostly at the aesthetic level. Furthermore, the knowledge of human senses is often restricted to the out-dated classification of the five senses, ignoring the complete and reality of our senses. For these reasons, these approaches can be quite insufficient for the design of health-related facilities, where all the sensation in the environment should participate to have positive impacts on people’s wellbeing. Traditional design approaches try to solve these problems by reducing aggressive stimuli (Nanda, 2017) in the environment, and guarantee calm and privacy (Monzu, 2016) (Vannetti & Monsù Scolaro, 2015). On the contrary, our research intends to explore the potentialities of the Synaesthetic Design approach for the field of healthcare design. On this purpose our research intends to assess the extent to which products’ sensory features may induce phenomena of sensory interaction, known as synaesthesia, between those sensations found to affect the general condition of wellbeing. Particular attention is given to the sensation of pain

Keywords: Synaesthesia, Senses, Wellbeing, Healthcare Design, Pain


Many studies highlight the importance of sensorial stimuli in health-related contexts as participating element to enhance patient’s recovery and reduce the length of stay. Nevertheless, healthcare facilities are often source of aggressive sensations for their users: bright lights, abrupt sounds, unpleasant textures and temperature, strange smells, and several other stimuli found to have a strong impact on people health. Traditional design approach try to solve this problem trying to reduce or eliminate aggressive stimuli in the surrounding environment (Nanda, 2017) with the aim to guarantee calm and privacy. The action of subtracting sensorial stimuli is defined with the term anesthesia (from the Greek a:no, aísthēsis: sensations); on the contrary the term «synaesthesia» (from the Greek syn: together, aísthēsis:sensations) means joining sensations, subtending the idea to have more sensations proceeding simultaneously. On this purpose this research intends to explore the potentialities of the Synaesthetic Design approach for the field of healthcare design in order to trigger positive stimuli, beyond removing the sensory stressors and guarantee calm and privacy.


Synaesthesia is a particular kind of sensorial interaction a particular kind of sensory interaction where induced stimuli and inducted sensations establish a precise relationship cause-effect. (Riccò, 1999). It is a “contamination” of our senses that becomes evident when sensations coming from a sensory modality induce the same involuntary and automatic experience in another register. This phenomena of human perception takes place because every sensation, even when it is perceived by a specific sensorial organ, is object of the synchronic elaboration and transformation by the complex of our senses. The aim of Synesthetic Design is to design is to coordinate all sensations stimulated by products assessing the capability of each sensory modality already during the design process (Haverkamp, 2013). On this purpose our research intends to explore the potentialities of a Synesthetic Design approach for the field of healthcare design.


Along this research our attention will be particularly focused on the sensation of pain. In spite of pain being considered a sensation, whose absence is an important condition for well-being, it is quite surprising that pain is not an issue of primary importance in healthcare design. Several studies demonstrate that the sensation of pain, defined as nociception, can be naturally reduced by our organism; (Wolfe, et al. 2006). The gradual reduction of pain is literally defined analgesia. Given all the above, this research intends to assess the extent to which sensory based products are able to trigger phenomena of sensory interaction, known as synaesthesia, able to reduce the sensation of pain in people.


This is an interdisciplinary design research with theoretical frameworks from neuroscience and cognitive psychology. The entire work is based on a mixed field/experimental research: users’ reactions will be assessed during a mixed experimental-field research. A set of dependent variables (i.e., sensation) will be measured collecting both quantitative (psycho-physiological measure) and qualitative data (user’s reactions). New solutions will be designed and tested in real life situations (hospitals). The main outcome of this study shall be a multi-dimensional model for a sensory-centered design.

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