If you were to ask the design imperative of the moment, the answer would be ‘colour’; but a very close second would come touch and handle! Wherever we look, we see tweed, slub, granular, crêpe, 3D, sculpted, blister, cloqué, raised surfaces… This is not just because of design aesthetics but also our growing need for ‘humancentric’ behavior.
With Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the rise, consumers are responding in two ways: some embrace it as a way to create time, boost productivity and even manage mood; other reject it preferring the fundamentally human characteristics of community, embracing the down-to-earth, the analogue and each other. We are busy right now considering what it means to be human – how we live in our own skin and celebrate our differences.
Flesh, of course, has been on the mind of designers for some years, but nowhere more talked about than in Kanye West’s Yeezy apparel and footwear show for Adidas in February 2015, dramatic in its combination of nude bodysuits, seamless underwear and athletic-inspired streetwear in muddy colours — and perhaps one of the most spectacular front rows ever assembled
Pink has been a key player in fashion for years now evolving from the ultra-girlie into masculine acceptability and the colour of protest, but our new fascination with flesh shifted focus away from millennial and pretty hues into real skin tones and their related textures. That feeling has been exacerbated by the drive towards social ‘inclusivity’ where consumers want to be treated as individuals and considered for themselves no matter what their race, gender, size, ability or faith – hence the rush in cosmetics for an ever increasing number of nuanced foundation creams and blushers, suncare for all skin tones, hosiery and even bandages for humans of all colours.
Of course, our celebration of flesh and the tactile has strong physical connotations – hence the spate of nude selfies (started by Kim Kardashian and Emily Ratajkowski with their mirrored selfie protesting double standards in 2016); the growth of nudity in advertising; explicit graphics such as Bompas & Parr’s typeface Grope Sans, based on male and female genitalia; and even a nude restaurant, The Bunyade in London.
Even in the digital world, touch and tactility has become something of a ‘holy grail’. It’s ‘clicks to bricks’ as more and more companies (including Amazon) that started out as online-only enterprises have started to open physical stores as they recognize that human interaction and physical touch is hard if not impossible to replace.
Finding synesthesia and multi-sensorial stimulus in a digital/virtual world is the next big step for technology. ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, a relaxing mental state characterized by a tingling sensation on the scalp, is playing a key role.
Remember, touch is the first sense humans develop in the womb, even when 1.5cm embryos. But, somewhere in adulthood, what was instinctive to us as children has come to feel awkward and out of bounds less such tactile actions provoke legal action.
Sensing this deficit, a touch industry is burgeoning in Europe and the US, where professional ‘cuddlers’ operate workshops, parties and one-to-one sessions to soothe the touch-deprived. In Japan, a “Tranquility chair” has been developed, its soft arms wrapping the sitter in a floppy embrace. So, we hope that this issue of Viewpoint Design will make its own tactile contribution to redressing the balance.