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Web Design for All the Senses : Comments

By Dirk Knemeyer

January 12, 2005



January 12, 2005 11:24 PM

Interesting article. I liked the idea about sending people add-ons for their keyboard or mouse that remind them of your product/site. Of course, the entire article was interesting in the way you talked about how to use the different senses in design.


January 13, 2005 5:12 AM

Thought provoking article. A lot of good ideas to get the mind thinking. I took notes.
Designing the entire experience is a concept that web design needs to strive towards.

Joshua Porter

January 13, 2005 5:36 AM

Interesting article, Dirk. One thing that has real opportunity in the aural area is podcasting, a blog by soundfile (usually mp3) paradigm. I’ve listened to quite a few podcasts now, and I find that it’s a great way to supplement blogs. Because people talk better than they write, it’s a great way to understand someone’s point of view in their own words.


January 13, 2005 5:37 AM

First the end of usability and now this! I think you should make it clear on the article page that Dirk is a satirical columnist, to avoid any confusion.

Hugo Tremblay

January 13, 2005 6:57 AM

Assuming we have now reached the point where our grasp of the medium is firm enough, I guess we’ll need every idea and suggestion to help us go forward. Maybe including the five senses into design brainstorms is a bit premature right now (the smell-o-vision is not within reach yet) but it’s not too early to begin to think about the next step. Great article!

Matt Rehkopf

January 13, 2005 7:12 AM

Interesting stuff. I have to admit that trying to get clients to go along with what seems to be offline promotional initiatives would be an uphill battle. The company’s marketing department would surely push back; sending a $.50 piece of fabric to hundreds of thousands of customers may not be the best use of marketing dollars.

While sound is the obvious sense that we can tap into more, I thought that the examples here were not the best. Sites that offer music files cannot be considered “integrating” an audio experience. And musical rollovers are a kin to background

Jan Marie Schmidt

January 13, 2005 8:11 AM

Thanks for an inspiring article! It definitely stretches the mind and gets those creative ideas flowing.

Joe W.

January 13, 2005 8:16 AM

It’s a small nitpick, but the original Napster didn’t use the Web, it used its own protocol over the Internet. So it isn’t really “a testament to auditory content on the Web.”


January 13, 2005 10:30 AM

Thanks for the good examples, Joshua and Matt, and for the clarification, Joe.

Matt, your point about satisfactorily completing goals is definitely just as important as these more experiential things. The key, to me, is that our community has spent a lot of time focusing on helping people satisfactorily completing their goals and far less on innovating the space. That is why conversations like these are important.

Also, with regard to pushback from marketing, that is always a possibility. But marketing has struggled with successfully dealing with the digital world, and those of us involved in on the digital side have valuable insight and ideas to contribute in that sphere. Most times, good ideas will make their way to seeing the light of day, and the more we can prove a center of gravity for good ideas, the better off we will all be.

S. Visser

January 13, 2005 10:48 AM

Wow. So this happends when a marketing strategist goes design.

First off, stop expunging hot air. There are limitations to every kind of media, and this is what makes them different and interesting. Trying to augment experiences with half-arsed attempts to enrich a medium with attributes from other media is not only unwise, but just plain wrong.

The examples you state are great examples of marketing tricks. Freebees, sounds-a-go-go, all is a form of advertisingblindness to lure people in. Now, I don’t say that this is a wrong thing to do (especially if you have a business that largely operates online), but this is has nothing to do with the web and webdesign. These are universal business tactics.

I get the underlying point: the web needs to mature, websites need to break out of the herd and be more creative. I agree.

But put the emphasis on that wich the web is good in: interactivity and visual identity. Be a little more creative and think outside of the box-model. A mousemat will not make your crappy site better, webmaster. Try something like Billy Harvey (thanks Matt!), Bearskinrug v5 or Fish Marketing. That’s growing up. That’s what I like to see.


January 13, 2005 11:35 AM


There are a couple of key points that you miss in your criticism: first, the web is not just another media. It will increasingly be the epicenter of how people interact with companies. There is really no comparison between the web and traditional media. Particularly in association with the web, we need to be innovative and create cross-media synergy. That is not hot air, that is reality. The center of gravity for corporate information, interaction, and communication will increasingly reside right here.

Second, while you are correct that these are universal business tactics, this is a publication for web professionals. Among my tasks is to bring new ways of thinking and approaching the web, and our work to people in this space. This way of thinking and innovating new approaches are the provenance of everyone connected to business and design, including the web.

You’re examples of innovative site designs are good and contribute to the conversation. Thanks for sharing.

Eddie Wilson

January 14, 2005 4:06 PM

First off I would like to say that of course this article, I assume, is meant to be an “eye opener” of sorts into areas that we have not explored. It does not say anywhere that you should go try to make a web experience visual, smelly, tasty, loud, and feely.

Having said that I feel it necessary to be another voice (like S. Visser, mattur) to the fact that this article is sending out the wrong message. Like “End of Usability”, while the idea is interesting to share, it doesnt fufill any needs, or quantiy any point made in the article itself.

First, it amazes me to see so many “web, interactive, experience, visual designers” feel that the experience need to be pushed further than they are already being pushed. So instead of spam for email it will be farts for smell-of-net? So instead of spyware it will be shockware? Maybe the current push is to examine the current state and fix certain issues; fixing the foundation before we go and install satellite tv. By trying to run down the hall to the door at the end we pass so many side doors that simply lead to problems.

Second, when did the web become the focal point for our lives? Instead of promoting ideas that keep people at their computers, Maybe we should promote ideas that get people on-and-off their computers faster? Maybe? We should work to make the web a tool, not create tools to keep people on the web. And please dont assume im not including mobile devices with this comment. I dont want to get into a car wreck because my cell phone got hot and smelly, and touched me.

Third, WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS ARTICLE? To have a web experience visual, smelly, tasty, loud, and feely?

Its your space but uhhhh, I dont see alot of “constructive” comments for this one.

Nick Finck

January 14, 2005 4:51 PM

Eddie: Welcome to the misunderstood world of bad business and marketing practices.

Maybe we should all pursue careers as sherpas? Of course then we would be trying to find ways for people to keep purchasing our guidance… like removing trail markers and such.

My point? Sometimes we have to establish the difference between utopia and reality (“Real World” if you will)... however I do agree that not everything motioned within this article is really practical or useful (“Good Practice”)... but I don’t think that was Dirk’s point. I think its more about encouraging people to innovate and explore creative ideas (“Think Tank”)... and I am certain he doesn’t intent to suggest that people take this to the extreme where users are afraid to go load a web page because they think something will reach out and grab them.


January 14, 2005 9:52 PM

I have to say this article must have smellovision enabled, cause it just stinks. Sorry to be so critical, most of the articles here are great, as are many of Dirk’s, but this article lacks a point.

Paul Armstrong

January 14, 2005 10:51 PM

Most people hate when a website makes noise. But in general, users get annoyed at sound being made. The majority of “surfers” are also listening to music from their computer or stereo while on the internet. The sound clashes very quickly and you will end up with a frustrated visitor.

That being said, it is safe to make the assumption that “Smell-O-Vision” would be well hated along with “Taste-O-Vision” or whatever you were getting at. Really I think you were just trying to make some random crap up so you could use all five human senses.

Returning to the idea of sound on websites: Yes there is a way to cross the boundary, but it is a very solid line. Flash animation / Cartoon sites use sound for good reason: they emulate the television experience because the internet is a very cheap medium to share your hobbies.

In general, this article is terrible. The ideas behind it make little to no sense at all because they are pushed too far. Dirk is trying to be a visionary for the future of the web. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that, but he is taking it too far. We need to advance in small steps and push the limitations of the medium before we make assumptions about how to give users/visitors a ‘better experience’.

For now, web designers and web programmers need to focus on usability and supporting standards correctly.

Eddie Wilson

January 15, 2005 7:13 PM

Nick Finck, I gotta admit man…the category references to EMLlabs were right on! :-)

And yes I do agree with you that its ok to talk about exploring other avenues-my first paragraph. But you cant just put up an article that doesnt have a point ,but it own existence, without getting flamed for it. It mannerism meets web publishing.

And my points are not based on any kind of Utopia. Look at any social statistic poll on internet usage. Users are getting on and off the web faster. They are learing how to get what they want and get out. People dont want to revolve their lives around the pursuit of information, or commerce. They want to get to it and get it done with. Research will show you that marketing and branding are having the weakest effects on product sales in history, unless your a mega giant like Coke vs Pepsi. People are empowered, now more than ever, to find good products and eliminate the bad ones, and are learning how to do it faster. Heck they even have terms now such as “banner blindness, describing how people are sub consciencely training themselves to avoid any kind of advertising (banners) when searching for their goals. Now we are trying to go past the screen? This article is COMPLETELY based off of marketing intent, with no regard for the end user, and people are wising up to this fact. People could care less about anything this article promotes, and statistics will show you that people are the least trusting now then they ever were in advertising.

They want the tools to get the info so that they can then LEAVE and have the experience. Not the other way around. Its our jobs to provide this avenue, and I am sorry if your product isnt good enought to get a users attention, that you have to resort to smell-o-web or a mousepad that gets too hot when you leave their website. Silly thing is you think that im kidding. Look at the heights that SPAM is reached! Its rediculous that marketing has turned the web into a place where I have to wear a “full suit of armor” just to spend some time on. And now we want to talk about more methods of doing the same thing?

Michael A.

January 16, 2005 7:17 AM

Thank you for the interesting article and the all of the comments.

Well, I am officially a broken record. I admit it. Remember the Beatles song that if you played backward and got stoned enough (I wouldn’t know anything about that part) you could hear the lyrics:

“Paul is dead, Paul is dead…” and then oddly: “Mike, turn that F%$*%ing music off and do your homework”?

Maybe not, but I am having an odd flashback.

“People people people humans humans humans humans social social social…”

I think it is great that you are talking about the senses as they do belong to human beings. I agree with this although my hearing would be better if I played those albums forward and a lower volume, but I am in flashback mode again, sorry. I use that other human quality- imagination- a little too often (nice save!)

I am not on the same page however. I just don’t think that is why we need the Web: to smell sites? Lord, a dot com tried to recruit me way back then that was producing such a device. It sprayed chemicals at you that had certain smells and I think you have a good enough imagination as to what kind of creative odors they specialized in. I am not making this up and I turned down the job (in case you were wondering) with a smile on my face and a sick feeling in my tummy.

So, the point. The Web is a social tool. Technology, and visual design (usability too!) are the gears and the mechanism-or to borrow from my Art History days, the formal elements. We studied those aspects as carefully as we did the historical period in which the artist worked or the movement took place.

CONTEXT. The social, political, cultural, economic and personal aspects that informed the work SHE or HE created (threw you for a moment, maybe? Gender equality for another post, deal?)

Yes, hindsight is 20/20, but the Web is changing that clique as well. The multiple factors that impact our day to day work are powerful and overwhelming at times. It is not just the stuff of historians.

Whether we like it or not, we are serving a pressing social/human need. It has come about, as most social and/or cultural movements and even evolutionary shifts always do: rapidly and rather chaotically. Technology is growing at the speed of light for its own sake? Come on now? It is tired and needs a week off; as do we all.

We have a major burden in addition to the concerns every working professionals has today. We have to produce that which is of critical need and we haven’t yet figured out why, exactly.

No one has, but as a “social network” we seem to be one of the few that isn’t even trying to answer the question.

Sorry too sound harsh? The last thing I want to do is tear down my colleagues; enough of that already. I simply think we are overwhelmed and stressed out at the responsibility that we face and we focus on what is safer: “interoperable, future proofed” technology instead of the concerns we feel about the “sustainability” of our profession. Post 9/11 and we can add survival to that list as well.

I openly admit to being terrified.

Now, some hope. It is my belief and as it turns out, I am not alone in this idea, that our sustainability and relevance depend on our shifting our roles as Web professionals (designers, developers, IT, anyone in our field…ALL OF US) to be more inclusive, united and multi-disiplinary.

Not experts in everything, but a little dash of “social scientist” and a little bit “political scientist,” then mix in a dash of psychology (human, not computers..thankfully)

Why? Just the stuff of the elite, the intellectual and academic world? Well, the reasons are multiple and I don’t want to actually publish the article I am finishing on this exact topic here, but the most important:

You will most likely find inspiration and hope in what many others are already discussing. It will make us to work better at the highest and best level we deserve (I happen to think we are, collectively, the brightest and best they come…again, people..I think you get that, yeah?)

If I have to help weave this Web, I would like to be among those who are influencing what it says. “Charlottes’ Web” references reserved for my article, sorry. I am in communications and marketing, I can’t help a little tease or two.

Thanks as always and a special one to Joshua Porter. Josh, how is it that you manage to work, write, read and comment on everything published that I come across? You amaze me. (clone patent, perhaps?)


January 16, 2005 5:24 PM

The common thread to what I think is being missed among the comments is that building the web is NOT just about users. It is also about business need, and gaining a competitive advantage over your competitors. The reality is that more deeply digging into the senses of users is a tremendous opportunity to do that. Yes, it needs to fall within a certain level of acceptability, else users will tune it out and it will run contrary to succeeding on a business level. But because companies want and need an edge, and the way the web exists today is almost entirely undifferentiated, this is a logical direction to go. And, for web professionals, being mindful of these things and proactively suggesting solutions like these, we can gain an advantage in our careers by being part of progressive solutions.

I admit some of my examples were not the greatest. I’m a big picture guy and sometimes don’t pick the best examples. Glad that so many people stepped up with better ones, though.

Paul Armstrong

January 16, 2005 5:37 PM

All of this defending yourself is making you look desperate.

Lance Shields

January 16, 2005 7:28 PM

OK, OK. Why is the web biz full of such frustrated people? While I was hoping for a bit more in the way of doable ideas, I also understand Dirk’s motive in trying to extend the experiences we make on line. As we all pound away day after day on these things we call websites, we definitely have to find new ways to make them unique and worthy of staying for a while. I don’t hear anyone else writing articles from this angle so I appreciate the effort, whether Dirk had the best examples or not. Keep up the fight!

Another example of richer sensual experience, while oldish, is


January 17, 2005 3:28 PM

What a bunch of nonsense!

Nick Finck

January 17, 2005 4:10 PM

irvin: Well that was a constructive responce.


January 19, 2005 9:52 PM

wow, some vitriollic responses. The way that I see it is that even if you are only working on the visual aspects of a website design you can still consider what this article suggested. Perhaps considering all the five senses, even abstractly is a way to make you refine your visual concept.

Out of curiousity however I would love to see some case studies by Dirk (small budget one, large budget one) that have used this model. DK – love your work!

Nick Finck

January 20, 2005 8:37 AM

Vitriolic is and understatement. I agree, I think people are taking him 1) out of context and 2) too literally.

David Salahi

January 26, 2005 4:53 PM

I had to check my calendar to see if today is April Fool’s Day. I mean, really—smell, taste, and touch on the web? Yeah, sure some day maybe. But that day is a looong way off.

I don’t come to the Digital Web Magazine site to daydream about science fiction web sites. Let’s see some more relevant articles.

Teri O'Connell

February 4, 2005 3:09 PM

It’s hard for me to accept the author’s expertise in Web design when I see the page where it’s published. There’s insufficient contrast between the text and the background making the text difficult to read. Make the text darker to promote legibility. What was that about spending too much of our effort designing for the eyes? Unless you’re using a screen reader, the eyes are the first point of entry for this information and they have to overcome a barrier on this site. The title promises ideas that are too good to hide behind a barrier. Let the users at those good ideas!

Sheri Sipsis

February 18, 2005 6:28 AM

Dirk – Though I applaud your goal to inspire innovation, this is the type of article (along with your death of usability articles) that sends designers down a dangerous path – ultimately degrading the quality of web design and user experiences.

You say “The common thread to what I think is being missed among the comments is that building the web is NOT just about users. It is also about business need, and gaining a competitive advantage over your competitors.” Let

sandeep jaidka

March 14, 2005 8:32 AM

I just read your article,for smells in multimedia you have highlighted NTT,
Being inventor of USA patent number 6152829,I must advice you to do a complete research before writing any article on the Web,
There are companies much ahead of NTT in this field ,DIGITAL SMELLS are now a topic of present not of future ,if you or the readers of your article have any doubts they can visit
We are not interested in which company is doing what and which way ,we are sure of our product to be launched soon with a backing of USA patent.

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