Sensory Friendliness: Way More than Minimalism

One misconception that often comes up when discussing sensory friendliness is, that the term means some sort of minimalism or decluttering, and that we can call a certain place sensory friendly when it has been made as quiet, colorless, scentless, and drab as possible. This idea is probably distant cousin to the idea of minimalism as a weltschmertz-motivated joyless decluttering of everything until one owns next to nothing. In reality, both minimalism and sensory friendliness are about decluttering clutter that is disturbing, strenuous and just makes life unnecessarily complicated. On the other hand, things that bring joy and pleasure are most welcome, and the goal of minimalism- inspired decluttering is to make more room for sucy things. Via joy it is also easy to understand, that sensory friendliness is not just an autist or highly sensitive person thing, but a view that has potential to benefit everyone who wishes to create pleasant spaces. For example, sensory friendly customer premises does not mean clinical drabness but a pleasant space where people like to spend time and where they can regulate their own sensory load. Perhaps sensory friendliness seems difficult just because it can not be achieved by mechanical decluttering.

Single-minded decluttering is made more difficult also by the fact, that too much decluttering may create new, unpleasant sensations. An empty space starts echoing, and previously imperceptile sounds become annoying. Clinical white makes even small stains look bad. Where there used to be too much of everything is now boring and drab even though decluttering was supposed to produce cozy and pleasant spaces. Because our sensitivities vary, what needs to change is often far from obvious to less sensitive people. We are used to talking about sensory sensitivities as separate issues such as noise, odor or tremor, but in reality we sense our environments with all senses at once. Simple formulas and rules of thumb do not work because understading sensory environment necessitates understanding change and complexity.

So, sensory friendliness starts from understanding the fact that sensory environment is an all-encompassing and complex package. When most obvious triggers and distractions have been listed, we have only scratched the surface of the matter. In a place that causes a lot of sensory strain, there might not even exist a single obviously irritating stimulus, instead the place is simply strenuous as a whole. Or maybe the strongest sensation is a welcome one: an excellent meal in a restaurant, performance of an orchestra, touch of a beautician. In such cases, sensitive people may be overstimulated due to additional sensory clutter of the environment, and that makes them unable to concentrate on a pleasant experience. Sometimes same stimuli that have, for example, helped to attract customers into a store may lead to discomfort once they are inside, with the result that they spend less time browsing and finding products as the store owner had hoped. A working environment that has been designed with focus on maximizing efficiency turns out to be too stressful. So the goal of thinking sensory friendliness is to find balance points and just right amount and composition of stimuli. Once one knows what the problematic elements of a sensory environment are, it is often quite easy and cheap to change or counter them and create better sensory experiences.

Getting started with creating sensory friendliness requires only basic sensory understanding and positive attitude. However, beginning to understand sensory experience in real life environments is very different from best theoretical understanding. Luckily, there are all sorts of people. Some of us are naturally very sensitive and have, as a result of their personal need to understanding many shades of sensory stress, capable of observing their sensory environment analytically. It seems, that sensory mapping requires such ability and skills in order to be really effective tool for improving sensory friendliness.

Kaiao’s SenseWalk service is based on such abilities. It offers the client clear information and support for developing more sensory friendly spaces. If you would like to know more about improving customer experience or workplace wellbeing via sensory friendliness, contact and we will see how I could assist you. Please note, that SenseWalk itself is currently a service available only in Finland, as it is impossible to provide online.