How can we enrich the quality of everyday life for people with dementia through sensory experience?

I originally decided to explore the idea of designing for delight for my Final Major Project, and rather than solve a problem try to create an immersive sensory experience that would hopefully spark a bit of joy in people. The project would seek to investigate and explore how tangible things make us feel intangible joy, and how sensory experiences affect our emotions and the relationship between the physical world and the quixotic emotion called delight.

To achieve that, I examined the types of strategies that can be used to reach a state of delight and how space and materials can affect that. With evidence pointing to the psychological benefits of nature, where the natural environment can not only help mitigate stress but also promote a range of intermediate outcomes such as increased subjective well-being, I wanted to explore the effect nature has on feelings of delight and use it as an inspiration for the shape and playfulness of the space. Another approach I wanted to examine was sensory design, where sound, touch and smell are equal to sight, and emotions as important as cognitions.

However, shortly after the submission of the proposal I had a business meeting with DEOS, an organisation that provides care to the elderly, where I presented our UX course and my projects. At the end of the meeting they offered me the position of UX designer on their new project—building an innovative centre for people suffering from dementia called The Poppy World. As they wanted me to design a sensory room as well, I saw this as an opportunity to combine my Final Major Project with an actual project. This collaboration would also afford me the possibility of working on the increasingly important issue of providing quality care for people with dementia.

Plan for the FMP.

After John and Alaistair approved my newly chosen topic, I started exploring the world of dementia. Before diving into research, I wanted to read something to help me better frame and understand my project. I eventually chose The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan Watts. Although the book itself covers quite a broad range of topics and is not directly linked to my research question, it gave me some ideas on how to approach this project.

The book touches some important topics in design, the experience itself, our perception of problem-solving and phenomenology. The author offers a simple but interesting perspective on problem-solving. He believes that we view ourselves as practical persons who want to get results. We are impatient with theory and with any discussion that does not immediately lead to concrete applications. He states: ‘If a problem can be solved at all, to understand it and to know what to do about it are the same thing. On the other hand, doing something about a problem which you do not understand is like trying to clear away darkness by thrusting it aside with your hands. When light is brought, the darkness vanishes at once’ (Watts, 1951). And in my experience, we tend to devote more effort to solving poorly understood problems than to understanding them.

Ideas of Alan Watts in conection to the UX design.

Another interesting part of the book is the author’s view on death. He sees death as something we welcome in our old age. When we are younger, death is something we fear, but if we imagine that our death could be indefinitely postponed, we would not actually go on postponing it forever because after a certain point we would realize that this is not the way in which we wanted to survive. It is far more interesting to continue the process of life through different individuals, because with each new individual life is renewed. With children we can survive in a different way, so we pass on the torch and say, ‘Now you work’.

To create relevant design, designers need to consider the bigger picture and different perspectives with care and thoughtfulness, without meaningless assumptions based solely on their opinions, and one way to achieve that is to search for more than just topic-specific articles.


Blazhenkova, O. and Kumar, M. M. (2018) Angular versus curved shapes: correspondences and emotional processing. Perception, 47(1), 67-89.

Cabanac, M. (1999) Pleasure and joy, and their role in human life. In creating the productive workplace (pp. 62-72).

Hartig, T., Mitchell, R., De Vries, S., and Frumkin, H. (2014) Nature and health. Annual review of public health, 35, 207-228.

Hess, U., Gryc, O., and Hareli, S. (2013) How shapes influence social judgments. Social Cognition, 31(1), 72-80.

Malnar, J. M. (2004) Sensory design. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Watts, A. (1951). The wisdom of insecurity: A message for an age of anxiety. Vintage.