UI&us is about User Interface Design, User Experience design and the cognitive psychology behind design in general. It's written by Keith Lang, co-founder of Skitch; now a part of Evernote.  His views and opinions are his own and do not represent in any way the views or opinions of any company. 

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Synesthesia in Design

Synesthesia is the condition whereby a person will experience something from the real world in one sense, and then experience an internal sensation in another sense. For example, some people see colors when they read certain numbers, or hear a certain chord or piece of music. Or, as recently discovered, hearing something when experiencing motion.

Sound a bit odd? Well we all have synesthesia to some degree. Let me paraphrase some real research.

For example, if you look at the two pictures of these imaginary animals, and was asked which one was called "Tikitiki" and which was called "Boboo' then most of you would come up with the same associations. Each visual shape suggests an aural sound to us.
Animals -- synesthesia
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You would probably guess that the spiky animal is called 'Tikitiki' and the rounder one 'Boboo'. Our brains make strong correlations between abstract qualities across the senses. This research was originally done by Wolfgang Köhler and shows this effect even in young children.

So, what impact then does this have on design?

Some ideas:

  • Sharp and spiky 'Touch with Caution' areas, for example system settings

  • Conversely, rounded areas for those which should invite the most interation

  • Erratic motion for negative or 'dangerous' feedback

  • Harshly contrasting colors for dangerous places

Where else does synesthesia play a part in computer Interaction?

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[...] find rounded corners pleasant and easy on the eye—in fact, research indicates that there is a synaesthetic relationship between rounded shapes and other cognitive concepts that  humans associate with softness and [...]

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