Six Principles of Inclusive Tactile Design

Presented by: Dr. Kristi Gaines, Michelle Pearson, Su-Jeong Hwang Shin, Angela Bourne, Huili Wang

Introduction Children and adults may be diagnosed with sensory processing disorder when sensory signals do not integrate to provide appropriate responses. Because of these sensory issues, individuals may experience hypersensitivity to certain textures which is known as tactile defensiveness. The sense of touch and the concept of personal space are linked. For example, people that experience tactile sensitivity often may try to avoid being close to other individuals. The responses of tactile defensiveness may be varied with a wide range of design preferences exhibited. Often, they may prefer to sit or stand close to a wall in order to manage privacy. Developmental delays, learning problems, issues with comfort and other sensory problems may result. ( Hatch-Rasmussen, 1995). Touch is assessed concurrently with the other senses (Konkle, Wang, Hayward, and Moore, 2009). Konkle, et al. (2009) investigated the ways the senses of touch and sight impact each other. Gaines, Bourne, Pearson, and Kleibrink (2016) and Montagu (1986) state that interaction with architecture is multi-sensory, and people typically know how something will feel just by looking at it. The objective of this study was to identify ways to help alleviate sensitivity to touch by identifying the relationship between critical design factors in the environment and sensory issues. Method Sensory Integration (SI) theory was used for this study as a framework. For the first step, the therapeutic application of texture was investigated through search engines. The cross reference stimuli were compiled in a database in order to identify design factors associated with tactile defensiveness. IRB approval was obtained for the next steps. A mixed methods approach was utilized to gather data including 1) a series of interviews, 2) observations and 3) surveys. In all, data was collected from over 600 subjects who included children and adults with tactile defensiveness, professionals working with this population, and the parents of children with tactile defensiveness, Findings/Relevance to Interior Design The findings identified design features that promote and alleviate tactile defensiveness. Allowing for personal and transition spaces, the regulation of temperature, and the use of soft textiles and other soft textures were some of the factors identified. Additionally, deep pressure was determined to be a successful intervention. Physical activity and access to nature also had a positive correlation with tactile sensitivity. The information gained was developed into Six Principles of Inclusive Tactile Design. The results from this study further led to collaboration with apparel design in the development of sensory clothing products that allow for the adjustment of pressure while using appropriate textiles. Another clothing product incorporates the use of “fidgets” of varying textures. Bamboo jersey was identified as a preferred textile due to the soft and smooth hand as well as the ability to absorb perspiration. These outcomes are useful for researchers and designers to develop improved environments for individuals with sensitivity to touch as well as the general population. This presentation will explain each principle and provide practical examples for integration into interior spaces.


  • Konkle, T., Wang, Q., Hayward, V., & Moore, C. I. (2009). Motion aftereffects transfer between touch and vision. Current Biology, 19(9), 745-750.
  • Montagu, A. (1986) Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, Harper & Row, New York.
  • Hatch-Rasmussen, C. (1995). Sensory integration. Center for the Study of Autism at www. autism. org/si. html.
  • Gaines, K., Bourne, A., Pearson, M., & Kleibrink, M. (2016). Designing for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Routledge.
Join Renew Instagram Twitter Facebook LinkedIn
image widget