Unpacking tactility: the representation of tactile meanings in current packaging design practices and its implications for future-oriented design
Year of enrolment: 2019
The integration of multisensory and ‘tactile’ elements in packaging design is a growing trend and the onus is increasingly on designers to be innovative in their solutions and make their designs resonate or ‘signify’ in a tactile way. Maksim Arbuzov’s concept for tactile condom packaging, Fuseproject’s recyclable heat-woven Clever Little Bag for footwear brand PUMA, and Alexandra Burling’s Color Me Blind, a collection of tactile food packaging solutions for the visually impaired, demonstrate that there is a great diversity of meanings about tactility, and more than one way of ‘encoding’ or representing tactility in packaging designs.
Meanings are not simply inherent in the materiality of these packages; they are constructed using concepts and signs – representational systems – which we, including design practitioners, interpret through a shared ‘cultural code’. Moreover, larger social and cultural narratives are constantly at work, and current discourses around environmental sustainability, inclusivity and diversity, gender, cultural identity and race shape design processes and outcomes.
This proposed investigation will explore the relationships between packaging design practices and meaning-making processes, current dominant discourses, phenomenological experiences as embodied by designers, and the senses – specifically touch. How is the sensory modality of touch represented to produce meaning in current packaging design practices? And what are the wider cultural implications and future potential of ‘tactility-led’ packaging design? Whilst touch and the tactile in packaging design have recently received more attention, as demonstrated by recent academic publications on the topics of multisensory packaging design and the future of packaging, this remains a largely unfinished project. By combining the perspectives and aims of a post-structuralist approach to representation and sensory ethnographic encounters to ‘know’ about design practices, this study will make an innovative and interdisciplinary contribution to the academic and practical understanding of culture and meaning-making within a burgeoning design field.