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Tactile Understanding: Word Evoking Image and Empathy

Jennifer Brungart

The mind's eye possesses the potential to be a vivid space in which, through the visualization of scenarios, people may be able to grow to relate to and understand that which was previously immaterial and misunderstood in simulated, imagined interaction with concrete information.

Museum visitors, most often, are not permitted to touch exhibited objects. Feeling Without Touching (FWT) is a design intervention into museum exhibits that is intended to heighten museum visitors’ understandings of the tactile properties of selected objects–how it feels to use the objects–through guided visualization. The strategy employed in FWT is inspired by a notion that feeling (i.e. touch) may be linked with feeling (i.e. emotion). It seems that, perhaps, through an understanding of how it feels to use an object, visitors may be able to imagine how it feels to be the person who used the object.

The potential of visualization to provoke empathic response may be used by designers as a device to encourage audiences to perceive information as relevant and meaningful. Visualization activities developed by James L. Adams (1974) offer clues for prompting visualization, including the use of concrete, sensory-based language and the progressive establishment, manipulation and recombination of imagery.


visualization, empathy, concrete language, tactile properties, relevance, experience, museum exhibition