Tactile, Adjective

  1. Of or connected with the sense of touch.
  2. Perceptible by touch or apparently so; tangible.
  3. Designed to be perceived by touch.

Tactility is used as a term at Design Academy Eindhoven to refer to the way an object or design triggers the sense of touch. A tactile product invites one to touch it, and its design will pay attention to texture. Tactility relates to sensual experience (e.g. giving a sense of comfort), but it can also refer to a corporeal experience that is more thought provoking (e.g. provoking the senses in some way). Tactility in a design can be evoked by various qualities, such as temperature, weight, softness, roughness, smoothness, rigidity, shininess, texture, relief, flexibility, colour and more. There is a relation with embodied or tacit knowledge, in the sense that a design can activate a bodily memory: the body ‘recalling’ how something will feel when you touch it.

Tactility has a long history within arts and design education, it is, for instance, at the core of the educational methods of the Bauhaus and of Maria Montessori. Bauhaus professor László Moholy-Nagy instructed his students to make tactile charts. Montessori education encourages pupils, among other things, to learn to write by ‘drawing’ with their fingers first. In today’s visually oriented and increasingly digitally mediated society, however, we run the risk of becoming, as sociologist Richard Sennett (2008) puts it, ‘out of touch’. Sennett sees this as problematic, since touching things is crucial to being able to fully understand them. The Finish architect Juhani Pallasmaa also argues that more attention should be payed to tactile experiences, arguing that all our senses are an extension of touch and it follows therefore, in particular with regard to our built environment, that we should focus more on tactile experiences in order to feel comfortable and experience a sense of well-being.

In recent years, the sense of touch has gained renewed attention from designers. For example, in the design practice which is developing around food, an interest in touch, as well as in smell and taste, is a mark of a growing desire for design which relates more closely to the body and which creates conditions for immediate physical experience. In the field of digital communication a (renewed) interest in embodied interaction raises also raises questions about touch and tactility, not only in design but also in design research. Embodied interaction (re)introduces the physical into the realm of the digital, considering new ways in which computers and humans can interact with each other. For instance, ‘tangible computing’ is an area of human-computer interaction research where people are exploring how we can move the interface ‘off the screen’ and into the real world so that we can interact with physical objects which have become ‘augmented with computational abilities’.

DAE examples

  • Design Academy Eindhoven, Touch base, Exhibition at Salone del Mobile Milan, 2016
  • Bart Hess, A hunt for High Tech, Graduation project Man and identity, 2007
  • Daniel Costa, Prologue to the grounded joys, Graduation project Man and Leisure, 2013
  • Sanne Muiser, Tactile Corpusclus, Graduation project Man and Well being, 2016


  • Classen. C. (Ed) (2005). The book of Touch. Oxford: Berg Publishers.
  • Dourish. P. (2001). Where The Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. Cambridge, Ma: MIT Press.
  • McLuhan. M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Pallasmaa. J.(2005). The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Pallasmaa. J. (2009). The Thinking Hand, Existential and Embodied Wisdom in Architecture. Chichester, John Wiley & Sons.
  • Sennett. R. (2008). The craftsman. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
  • Sennett. R. (2011). Out of Touch. Lecture for Premsela Instituut, Amsterdam.
  • Stritzler-Levine. N. (Ed). (2006). Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor. Exhibition catalogue Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design and Culture, New York. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Verbeek. C. (2009). Gelieve aan te raken! Tastbare voorbeelden van tactiele kunst in de 20ste en 21ste eeuw. Thesis. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam.