Of all sensorial qualities of a material, texture hits our tactile sense strongest. Our tactile sense is the first we activate, and it is our largest sense too.
Even before birth an embryo is aware of the mother via the tactile sense. Also after birth touch and nourishing are vitally important. The skin has more nerve endings than any other body part and is in regular interaction with the other senses. A touch, pain, hot and cold, provide the brain with a continuous stream of information about the body’s surroundings. The tactile sense affects the entire organism and a material’s texture plays an important role.
Cuddle Factor and Light Reflection
Texture is frequently confused with structure, but is basically different; structure of a material is the way it is constructed, closed cell, laminated, massive, foam, etc. Texture on the other hand is about surface; is coarse, sharp, smooth or fluffy, and is perceived by the tactile sense. The texture in part determines the surface’s reflection capacity and therefore its appearance. Since facades of buildings are not often literally touched, the role of texture in a facade is mainly to reflect light plus its suggestion of tactility. In interiors a material’s tactile value does matter, however, as texture combined with light reflection determine the material’s “cuddle factor”.
Let us address the tactile value. Of all our senses the tactile sense brings us closest to our perception of a material. Smell, color, gloss and sound are basically generated by vibrations and gases; but a material needs to be felt. Not just simply touched; but tapped, cuddled, stroked and pressed. Feeling a material requires action. Without active cuddling, no reaction, no texture perception, no wow factor, no recognition, no pain, no pleasure. All this feeling registers strong associative markers. The soft limp cuddly bear, the painful knees after playing all afternoon on grandma’s ribbed carpet, the safe velveteen “plump couch” you cuddle up in, your bare feet in the wet grass.
The skin consists of three layers. The epidermis consists of horn cells and pigment cells. The dermis under the epidermis consists mainly of connective tissue. The top of the dermis and the bottom of the epidermis have a wavy pattern ensuring the two layers interlock as it were. The two layers are connected by innumerable minuscule blood and lymph vessels that feed the epidermis and transport waste. The blood vessels also regulate body temperature. The dermis contains al nerve endings that provide us with tactile, pain and temperature sensations.
And the subcutaneous connective tissue is mainly fat. Its vital functions are heat insulation, energy storage, and padding.
The need to touch becomes most manifest when you present people with material samples; it is not a product yet, it is not recognizable as yet, the essence and uniqueness of that piece of stuff needs to be examined and assigned a place in the mind, and this is only possible when it is touched, pinched, pressed. Only then the material acquires its meaning.
As referred to above, our senses were designed first and foremost for the benefit of the three F’s to assure the protection and preservation of the species; Flee, Fight, Fornicate. Examining and touching a material is like seeking confirmation that the material has ceased to pose a threat. Because some materials respond back at you. Foam pushed in bounces back, smart materials change color, liquid or gel materials appear to be moving. Moving material can cause startled reactions, it’s alive!