Experience Design Principles and Human Senses

Voice of Customer

With the increasing focus on customer experience as a competitive differentiator, many companies should adopt design principles based on human senses to create a ‘gestalt’ experience, one in which all the senses are engaged.

The role of the human senses in this customer experience design, while present, has not received focal attention until recent research on the subject. This area of research, referred to as the study of “embodied cognitions” or sense-based marketing, is getting more popular and will (if it hasn’t already) influence how we go about understanding our customers at a level of intimacy that will help drive the business outcomes of acquisition and retention of customers, loyalty and advocacy, revenues and profitability, among many.

Simply stated, what this means is that as companies think about crafting their customer journey maps, whether in a traditional brick and mortar environment or in the digital web environment, key ‘sensory’ design principles must be part of the blue print.

Each point of contact with the brand, whether that contact occurs on a website, in a retail store, during a telephone conversation in a call center, or while using a product, presents opportunities to influence the behavior of customers. Communication has been taken to another level with this approach- it appeals to deep subconscious elements of human thinking. Perhaps, most importantly, it offers opportunities to influence how customers think, feel, and behave at the point of experience. And let’s not forget to carry these through “after purchase engagement” of those same senses.

To create better perceptions of products and services, marketers have been experimenting with appeals to our five human senses in interesting and, sometimes, surprising ways:

  • Chuck Jones1, Chief Design and R&D officer at Rubbermaid, notes that they pay close to the ‘hand’ or ‘feel’ of packaging material for their pens, the sounds of the paper unfolding, and the way the package opens as an unveiling (but very pleasant) mystery.
  • Even a potato chip has the properties of sound (crunching), smell, taste, sight (packaging) and touch (Krishna2). Creating an environment of sensory appeal is essential for staging positive experiences.
  • In a digital web journey, a sense of ‘taste’ can be created with appropriate language and visuals. Online florists can create powerful emotional connections by using language such as “fresh aromas and vibrant colors..”. instead of “beautiful flowers…”
  • Supermarkets have introduced smell in their physical stores to increase sales; the scent in Nike stores has increased the propensity to spend. The color scheme, space configurations and furniture design in the Cleveland Metropolitan Library has created more readers.

Williams and Ackerman3 provide ample evidence of the value of the sensory strategy.

  • Bed Bath & Beyond, for example, designs customers’ journeys to “feel” their way through curtains, linens, and other home furnishings, thereby creating warmth. Whole Foods is another retailer highlighting organic feel by offering taste stations throughout their stores. Consumers touch and taste foods to build trust for their products.

Williams and Ackerman3 further report that people would pay 43% more for a product that they felt was warm to their touch; people offered less for a car when they sat on hard chairs as opposed to soft ones. The evidence is compelling and suggests that creating or staging a memorable experience through the senses is itself an innovative journey, and one that all customer experience professionals should adopt. Pirch is an example of a company that has taken the purchase of kitchen and bath products to an entirely different  sensory level, one filled with appeals to all the sensory touch points. Watch the engaging Pirch Advert at the beginning of this post to see for yourself how Pirch is using the senses in experience design.

All of the above are examples of the application of design thinking. Kolko4 notes that applying these principles that embody as many senses as possible would lead to a responsive and flexible customer-centric organization culture.

Creating a customer-centric culture is the new imperative for an engaged organization. It aligns with customers, as well as employees, and doing that is the future.


  1. Psychology: The Science of Sensory Marketing, HBR, pp 28-29, March, 2015
  2. Aradhna Krishna. Customer Sense. (April 2013) Palgrave Macmillan.
  3. Williams L, and Ackerman, J. “Please Touch the Merchandise”, HBR, 2011
  4. Jon Kolko, “Design Thinking Comes of Age”, HBR, September, 2015
Mohamed Latib

Mohamed Latib

Mohamed Latib, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of CX University. Mohamed has been involved in CX work for over 30 years. In his previous company that he co-founded he implemented customer feedback solutions for such brands as Kohl’s Department Stores, Fossil, TransUnion, The World Bank, Project Management Institute, Citi Bank and many others. He provided executive briefings going past key metric dashboards to identify strategic insights. Mohamed has also designed and delivered numerous CX workshops and training modules for Delaware North, Konica Minolta, Crowe Horwath, Singapore Post, Malaysia Telekom, and Reliant Energy among many others. He has led numerous culture transformation initiatives and has done senior executive development work for Air Products, Pennsylvania Power & Light, Siemens, Smithfield Meats, Dominion Textiles, Unisys, and others. The author of many articles and professional papers, Dr. Latib, holds an MS in Psychology, MBA and a Ph.D. in Business Administration (Organizational Behavior, Human Resources, and Strategy) from the Fox School of Business and Management, Temple University.

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