Are Touch Screens Affecting Interior Design?

March 13, 2018

The more we surround ourselves with touch screens, the more we search for tactile elements in our environments.

Humans have senses to use in the natural world where we encounter hundreds of things we need to touch, see, hear, taste, and smell every day. We evolved to trust the things around us through these responses to our brain. It gives us comfort to understand our environment in this way.

Yet, we’re innovating in ways that contradict our need to put these senses to full use with wearable technology, voice-activated smart home systems, and, of course, touch screens. This may have a direct impact on our interiors by encouraging the use of tactile products.

The Beginning and Touch-Screen Backlash

Since the release of touch screens, users have had their concerns about the devices. In 2014, Ford announced it would be moving back to buttons in their 2015 models after customer feedback. These models moved Ford to the bottom of the J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey and the company received a downgrade by Consumer Reports

In 2009, WIRED ran an article with research on how the flat screen “morphed” to allow raised buttons. Johnny Lee, a researcher at Microsoft’s Applied Sciences Group, said that the findings were “thought-provoking” because of the impact it could have on the innovations around touch-screen technology at the time. “As humans, we are very tactile individuals,” he said. “Touch is our primary sense as we navigate the world, but touchscreens don’t allow us to use it.”

As we now know, touch screens—and even “no screens” in the case of voice-activated devices (although Amazon has incorporated screens into their Echo Show and Echo Spot products)—have won the race. But the backlash is real.

Reacting to Touch with Feeling

However, if we believe that for every action there is an equal opposite reaction, our embracing the sleek flat feeling of touch screens may have caused a change in a surprising place: We’re noticing more often that tactile elements are being embraced by interior design industry.

It makes sense: With our fingertips possessing 2,500 feeling per square centimeter, our hands are some of the most sensitive parts of our bodies. These nerve endings are able to transmit information about the world to our brain in a more complex manner than previously thought.

As our technology becomes more tactile-less, our fingers “look” for information. This is being cantered to in products we regularly touch: the wood grain of a tabletop or the embossing on wood-look LVT; the varying heights of a textile’s threads or the cut loops of a carpet; three-dimensional wall products that can double as sculptural art; felt covering seemingly everything.

Because the tech we commonly use to interact and learn is becoming sleeker with every ideation, it’s understandable that we would want to create environments that will stimulate the receptors in our hands.

It’s a trend that doesn’t seem to be leaving soon. We can expect to see increasing dimensionality in our interiors as tech continues to be incorporated into our everyday items.

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About the Author

Kadie Yale | Former Editor-in-Chief

Kadie Yale holds a BA in Industrial Design from San Francisco State University and a MA in Decorative Art History and Theory from Parsons the New School. In her role as editor-in-chief from 2015-2018, she led the interiors+sources team in creating relevant content that touches on sustainability, universal design, science, and the role of design in society.

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