Synesthesia in Design

As a graphic designer, you are trained to pay attention to small details to adjust or add something. Within this, you also notice colors and how they are important to design and the everyday human experience. Colors are what gives life to the objects around us, whether they are dull or bright. From a young age, I found myself associating color with various objects or numbers. In pre-school, it helped me remember what numbers, places, and other learning tools were. When I was about 3 or 4 years old,  I started to notice I was combining colors with numbers or a place with a color and I did that often. Around 16 or 17 years old, I could relay color to sound. This is called Synesthesia and another form of it, Chromesthesia. 

What is Synesthesia?

According to Psychology Today, “Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway, for example, hearing, leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway, such as vision.” Within Synesthesia, there are various forms it can take and many people can have it without knowing. According to Boston University, “The short answer is that no one really knows. The long answer is anywhere from one in every 100,000 people to one in every 5,000 people, but it’s difficult to get a good count because of the nature of synesthesia.” For me, it takes the form of Chromesthesia, a more common sect of synesthesia that is specific to relation of sound and color. 

At the beginning of the year I found myself feeling like I needed to create something for myself. I then decided to combine design with my Synesthesia as a way to tie the two together. I titled this project Sensory Conversations. Sensory Conversations became this sort of virtual exhibit showcasing how I related sound and color. I made twelve “sensory conversations”–multicolor blobs of color that related to whichever song chosen for each particular one–and placed them on Instagram. When I started this project, it was mainly for discipline. However later on, I was able to bring my idea to life and create an in-person event at Channel Vivid, projecting the combined twelve on a white CYC wall. Creative directors from Conscious Minds Studio reached out to me to work on episode 1 of a new series by Nike called Come Thru, which brings together game-changing Black women for real talk about real issues, more specifically in this episode, business endeavors. I created multiple “aura” backgrounds, reminiscent of aura photographs people would take, that highlighted the four women speaking in episode one. Working outside of an ad agency was interesting as well. It’s something I value a lot because it relates more to the kind of design work I do and would like to continue to do. At Online Optimism, I’m thankful that I am able to see both sides of everything, which helped me understand my wants as a designer.

Lessons Learned

Moving forward in graphic design has taught me the importance of showing up as your true self. Had I not created Sensory Conversations to showcase my own interest in motion graphics and a way of coping with the current state of the world, I’m sure I wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity. As a designer, it’s important to mostly combine any part of you within your work. This allows for potential clients or creative partnerships to understand your professional or creative knowledge of design. When I created Sensory Conversations, it was based on my need for discipline within my work. It was exciting to share with others how I view sound and color around me, while most people didn’t know what synesthesia was prior to me detailing my experience with it. Synesthesia never felt like a hindrance to my design work, so having it only aided my knowledge of color theory and how I could combine it across mediums.

Once completing Sensory Conversations, I learned how I could stick to a schedule more efficiently and even along the way create one that fit my need for newness and change of direction within a computer screen, which was challenging but fruitful as a designer. As always, exhaustion will tend to happen throughout your Design career, however remember to take necessary steps that ensure you feel able to efficiently work. Small changes such as turning the screen to a less bright setting, leaving the house for physical activity, or a discipline project aforementioned are good starting points to decrease you feeling not like your best self. 

Learn More About Design at Online Optimism

Working at Online Optimism is great because they are very open about making sure to take necessary breaks. As a specialist, I really enjoyed that about this agency. I was able to understand the importance of rest in order to actually enjoy the work I was doing. The Specialist Program is a rigorous internship that allows you to be very hands-on with projects and clients of Online Optimism. Design Specialists, like me, make graphics for various clients and are very involved in the making of design. If you are interested in the Design specialist program and Online Optimism in general please consider learning more about the Specialist Program!