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Multi-sensorial is a dangerous brief

by ryan • October 6

As designers and strategists, we’re asked on a daily basis to represent sounds, smells and feelings with text and visuals.  Maybe you’ve even written a brief that says, “It needs to feel multi-sensorial, like a garden in Springtime.”  It’s a daunting task because of its very subjective nature. Representing all of the senses with only visuals requires stretching the boundaries of literal representation to some surprising results.

Heat Waves in a Swamp: the Paintings of Charles Burchfield, at The Whitney Museum of American Art, is an amazing cacophony of sensual stimuli delivered through mostly scenic watercolors.  Not only does Burchfield capture the sounds and physical sensations of a place, but later in his career mastered paintings that depict multiple points in time.  Smells and sounds literally vibrate off the page, calling out to be noticed.

It’s no surprise that Burchfield spent years as a graphic artist and designer honing this skill.  Though most of the paintings are still recognizably landscapes, the work pushes expectations of what nature looks like and how we experience sensorial input. Burchfield has captured a truly multi-sensorial 2d experience and it might be a little more than your boss or your brand can handle.  So, choose your words wisely the next time you’re looking to appeal to all of the senses.