Five minutes with: Alastair Somerville, sensory design consultant

By Clare Reucroft | 11/05/2017

Alastair Somerville

Alastair Somerville advises on user-centered design to help public organisations and companies create both physical and digital products.

He facilitates workshops on sensory and emotional design for corporations, including Google, and at conferences, including South by Southwest (SxSW), Interaction17 and O'Reilly Design.

At Camp Digital, your talk is entitled Gaps, Spaces and Awesomeness – what can audience members expect and why is this topic so important right now?

The talk is on how we move from user experience design to human experience design and it uses ideas of wonder, awe and transcendence to create a map of how we could get from here to there.

Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Wearables are extending the spaces in which designers can enhance user experiences so we now need to explore new tools to create them and bigger vocabularies to communicate why we do it.

In particular, I’m interested in how these new ways of thinking may help to burst the bubble of designing for the user as simply an individual. Transcendent User Experience design enables people to feel more connected to the people, the places and the issues that surround them. It’s about personal change and wanting to create change.

You are also partnering with Elizabeth Buie to deliver the workshop, Opening the Door: An Exploration of Design for Transcendent User Experience. Can you tell us what it will involve?

In the workshop, participants will get to play Elizabeth’s new board game, which shows how oblique techniques and design fictions are needed for transcendent experience design.

The workshop is a fun way of showing how current design thinking processes are limited and how we need to develop new ways of working. This is the first public workshop of the game so it is about play and discovery for all of us.

What is the biggest digital transformation you’ve witnessed or been part of throughout your career?

Coming from accessibility and inclusive design, the exciting transformation is in how the gap between physical and digital experience design is finally closing. The gap was never really there but now, with wearable and mixed reality technologies, we finally have people fully exploring how experience design and service design is an open space needing diversity of people and ideas.

You’re currently sensory design consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator at, are there any exciting developments / projects you’re working on that you can share with us?

The most interesting projects now mix physical and digital architecture to create spaces that are inclusive to people with physical and cognitive impairments. The area of cognitive accessibility is finally being recognised as a design space. Ideas are being pulled in from autism and dementia research, and neurodivergency is being recognised as a key part of future design.

What are you most looking forward to at Camp Digital?

It’s my first time at Camp Digital so I’m looking forward to the talks and the keynotes in the morning. I’m particularly looking forward to Molly Watt’s workshop on using and understanding assistive technologies. She has such an extraordinary depth of technical knowledge and lived experience.

Alastair Somerville’s talk will take place on Wednesday, May 24 from 13.45pm to 14.30pm in the Great Hall. His workshop with Elizabeth Buie takes place in the Banqueting Room at 14.45pm to 16.15pm.

To find out more about SensoryUX visit: or follow Alastair at @Acuity_Design

For more information about the conference or to book tickets go to: