How Multi-Sensory Design Impacts Human Emotion

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Image Credit: © geralt | Pixabay
Image Credit: © geralt | Pixabay


When creating an architectural design, are you doing only what is necessary to meet programmatic project requirements? Or do you go above and beyond to ensure that the environment you create is benefiting its occupants at its highest potential? The way in which you answer the latter question will reveal how creative you are with your multi-sensory design efforts, which ultimately determine how great your design is for its occupants’ well-being.


You see, when multi-sensory design is properly injected into an architect’s design process, the entire project benefits. Suddenly, it becomes possible to solve for those initial programmatic requirements while still being able to go above and beyond so your building can also help its occupants to achieve highest levels of well-being.  The key to making this all work is to use multi-sensory design to tap into human emotion through the built environment you create. By evoking emotion, your design will have a more meaningful and longer-lasting impact that guides occupants toward living, working, healing, or playing in ways that make them thrive.



Emotion through design acts as a lynchpin that helps a design to connect more deeply, and to have more profound effect upon an occupant’s potential and performance. An environment that connects emotionally can have physiological, intellectual, behavioral, and even spiritual impact. When an emotional connection is made, a person creates a strong memory to that which triggered the emotion. Thus, if a person sees a sunrise through a window which presents dawn like they have never experienced it before, then that person is likely to have a very positive emotional reaction to the beauty and function of that window and the nature to which it bridges. Its meaning can be either explained through the design and/or interpreted by the person – and this will all synergistically create an emotional memory within the building occupant.


If your design can inspire positive emotional memories within building occupants, then it will uplift their quality of life by increasing their happiness and health. After all, designs evoke a certain level and type of emotion. These designs can exist on a spectrum where on one end there is “flat” emotionless design that invisibly connects an occupant to something greater. And on the other end of the spectrum there is “lively” emotional design that visibly connects with an occupant. Either way, the design is a catalyst for emotion, and as a designer you will want to make sure your design is evoking the optimal emotion for a given situation.



For all of this, your architectural design needs to follow a synergetic narrative. Just imagine if a comedy film had scary music composed with it. This narrative would likely not be synergetic. It would confuse the film’s audience, leaving them bewildered and emotionless. However, when your design is synchronized so occupants perceive its narrative clearly, then your design will evoke the optimal emotions at the right times. Your architecture will bring greater aesthetic and functional benefit for its occupants, and its meaning will be felt more deeply and profoundly.


When creating architecture that rises to achieve even more that its initial programmatic requirements, think in terms of emotional connection through multi-sensory design. Your design process will never be the same, as it will significantly improve with each project you design, learn from, and within which you bring creativity.

About the author

Maria Lorena Lehman

Maria Lorena Lehman is a visionary artist, designer, and author focusing on links between environmental design, science, emerging technologies, and human potential. Lehman is founder of MLL Atelier, an art-based architectural design research practice. Maria Lorena Lehman is author of the award-winning book entitled, Adaptive Sensory Environments. She is recipient of the Harvard University Digital Design Prize for the "most creative use of digital media in relation to the design professions". Lehman also creates sculptures and paintings described as "visual poetry of motion that is a new inspiration" by Daniel Smith, the company that creates watercolors for artists worldwide. Maria Lorena Lehman holds the degrees of Master in Design with Distinction from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and a Bachelor of Architecture, Cum Laude, from Virginia Tech. She is internationally published and in numerous periodicals, including The Architect's Journal, Esquisses Magazine, Architect Magazine and Forbes.