The Senses—Design Beyond Vision

Finalist 2019

Cooper Hewitt invited visitors of all abilities to actively engage in ways surpassing conventional “universal design” considerations. The exhibition featured direct sensory moments and displayed practical, inventive and exploratory objects to touch, hear, see and smell through several interactive installations. Some designs on display included a touch-activated musical fur-lined wall, chairs that vibrated in response to audio clues, a food scent-diffusing “clock” that signaled mealtimes to people without sight or hearing and color-changing lights that responded to room population density.

The show exceeded all expectations on the part of the museum—even catalog sales exceeded expectations. A large number of museum professionals visited the show, specifically interested in the challenges of making meaningful displays that use tactile presentations.

Also, there were numerous visits by blind persons and those with low visibility; the use of Braille in conjunction with the labeling in a consistent way made this show an excellent example of how to work with their population.

The use of scent and vibration became an attraction for those with hearing impairments; the ability to understand music in varied ways coupled with other presentation techniques were of particular interest to this segment of visitors. Ultimately, the success of the show lay in its overriding sense of inclusion that allowed all visitors to understand the sensory world together.

Design Firms: 

Studio Joseph


Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

Project Area: 

8,000 sq ft

Open Date: 

April 2018

Project Budget: 


Photo Credits: 

Thomas Loof (photography)

Design Team: 

Monica Coghlan (associate for design); José Luís Vidalon (associate project manager); Ellen Wong (lead designer); Sam Weston, Derek Lee, Emma Chen (designers)


David Genco (graphic design)


Capitol Museum Services

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