Texture: The World at our Fingertips

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Whenever we encounter something, be it an object or an area, we use our senses to analyze it. We observe, we listen, we smell and then we touch. Touch is not usually the first sense utilized in assessing a space or object, but until we touch, our experience exists merely as a concept. Touching allows us to truly know what we are experiencing as it unites all of the other sensory experiences into something tangible. When we touch, we are experiencing the feel of something—its weight, composition, shape and texture. Although all of these elements are important, it is texture that is of the greatest significance in determining the essence of an item and how we feel about it.
Texture is something we encounter continuously throughout our everyday life, yet it is something we generally pay little attention to and we tend to take its influence for granted. Everyone is familiar with the standard texture experiences; the feeling of prickly, yet soft blades of grass under our feet, warm grains of sand gathering between our toes, the nubby, rough thickness of a favorite childhood blanket, melting chocolate on our tongue. Yet we don’t usually give these textures much thought because they are so intertwined with the enjoyment of the event or object through multiple senses. The grass has a distinctive smell, the sand is accompanied by the sound of the waves, and the blanket brings warmth, while the chocolate releases different tastes and flavors.
Strictly defined, texture is the way an object or surface feels, or the perception of its feel. It is a characteristic that may attract us to an item or evoke a desire to avoid it. Texture informs us about the strength and quality of an item and often gives information about its composition and how it differs from other objects around it. Processing texture aids us in determining how we feel about an object and assists us in building our mind’s texture database. Thus, when we encounter the same or similar item at another time, it has an association in our mind and our understanding of it is enhanced. Perhaps that is why we often touch things; we want to enjoy a familiar sensation or we are taken by the novelty of a new texture.
Texture is such an integral part of our existence that it even influences our appetite and emotional state. Research has shown that slightly altering the texture of food to make it creamier or thicker can make one feel satiated more quickly. Additionally, a recent study found that people in a negative state of mind are more likely to be drawn to the tactile aspects of an experience or object rather than the visual stimuli, yet when in a positive state, the focus is reversed. Positive texture experiences encourage people to remain in a place for a longer period of time, while negative, unwelcoming textures curtail the length of visits. In Greece, many taverns capitalized on this idea to achieve quicker customer turnover after becoming discouraged by the loss of business which resulted from customers spending hours lingering over a meal. By replacing all of the traditional tavern chairs with straight-backed, rough textured wicker chairs, they found that the average dining time of customers decreased allowing for more clients to be served.
In addition, our perception of texture is highly influenced by our experiences and memories. Accordingly, by examining the texture of an object we can often anticipate how it will feel based on our previous experiences with similar objects. However, viewing said object also awakens memory perception as it often draws to mind prior experiences in which the texture played a role. So the simple act of viewing a picture of a grassy meadow not only stimulates the recollection of how the grass feels, it may also bring forth a happy childhood memory of running through a grassy field. And all of this occurs subconsciously in a split second, often without our even realizing it.
While the effect of texture on its own is considerable, it is often viewed as an inseparable part of color as one is regularly associated with the other. This combined aspect of appearance and feel is a classic aspect of interior design utilized to evoke a mood or emotion in an interior space. A sleek black piece of leather furniture gives a feeling of cool modernity, while brightly-colored, fluffy pillows bring a sense of warm coziness to a space. We have all experienced the emotion of a space; compare the experience of walking over a smooth, cold marble floor with the cushioned softness of a carpet. What feelings and spaces and memories spring to mind?
This concept of texture tied to perception and memory stimulation is also commonly utilized in all aspects of graphic design. When designing a simple business card, the weight and feel of the paper used is of the utmost importance as it implies many things about the person proffering the card. A heavy weight paper with slight texture and embossed lettering makes a positive impact and may give the idea of professionalism and stability. In comparison, a slick, lighter weight card may send the image of cutting corners and unreliable or untrustworthy behavior. Additionally, the card’s lack of texture makes it more likely to be forgotten or overlooked in a wallet full of business cards.

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Wood and metal textured logo of Cities Design & Lifestyle Store, created by Zoom Creative. The wood and metal textures imply a feeling of stability to the viewer, while the textured wings of the swallow suggest movement and travel. Combined, the textures of the logo indicate a business that is dependable, yet forward thinking and open to new ideas.

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Front of brochure for Cities Design & Lifestyle Store designed by Zoom Creative. Note the textured, heavy weight paper. The slight texture and weight of the paper intimate professionalism, while the textured stamps lining the bottom of the brochure in varying gradations portray habitual travel to different parts of the world and stimulate curiosity in the viewer. Thus, this is a business that is well-established yet innovative. The stylized yet realistic representation of the swallow and the texture of its wings and the depth of shading used insinuate a sensible yet cutting-edge philosophy.

Today, the world of graphic design is largely a visual, two-dimensional world. As much of the work produced is viewed on a computer screen, implied texture is a significant way to add depth and dimension and interest in order to make an impact on the viewer. Within graphic design, texture is an extremely versatile tool and it is generally used in combination with light, color and typography to create a cohesive and memorable result. Although texture is typically employed in the background, it can also be used to highlight or separate content on a page. Additionally, it may function as a means to guide the viewer’s eye to certain elements or to enhance a company’s identity. In this way, the use of texture is almost manipulative; when looking at a well designed site, what we are drawn to, what we focus on and what we remember may be a result of well-placed texture controlling our response to what we see.

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Zoom Creative posters utilizing patterned motifs in varying gradations to suggest depth and dimension. Note the placement of the textured motif in each poster draws the eye, yet is offset from the logo and location information, providing three separate areas of visual interest. The textured motifs provide a visual starting point while suggesting movement, while the patterned design gives a connotation of continuity.

Clearly, texture plays a significant role in our lives and in our everyday interactions. It increases our understanding of the world around us and evokes emotions of varying nature and intensity. Isn’t it amazing that something so integral to our lives, yet so commonly overlooked can have such an influence on how we process events and objects in our daily existence?

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