Touch and Design

Lokesh Kannan
5 min readMay 7, 2020


I have been fascinated by the change in natural substances due to the touch of human hands

I visit the Paravadha malai temple with friends usually, its a hard trek after some heavy climbing. There is a point during the trek where you would have to climb an exceptionally large rock by holding on to the branch of a nearby tree. I like the tree very much because if you ever went to Paravatha malai, you have definitely touched this gentle tree without ever noticing it. Over the years, myriad number of people must have touched its trunk and notice how the touch of human hands has shaped it.

It looks very smooth and polished. Its very fascinating to see two branches of the same tree having different textures to it. One is natural and the other one induced due to people touching it almost everyday. I like the smooth design though.

Rocks have a similar transformation to human touch and these are two instances that I have examples to show. One of the entrance to the Chidambaram temple. Notice how the lower portions of the pillars have a blackish element to them owing to constant exposure to human touch. Notice also that the lower portions are more black, because kids always touch walls and run their palms.

Chidambaram temple

I got this shot, effigies of monks exhibiting smooth and black spots in places where people touch them frequently to worship. They are made from a single rock, however the surfaces have worn out, notice the legs and knees and how they shine out. These statutes are centuries old and young monks and people touch them almost everyday for prayer.

I often visit the st.Thomas mount church in Chennai. The chapel has a rock in place where there is a old cross that the saint installed himself centuries ago. They have a glass separating the rock nowadays. The next time you visit there, do take a look at the cross carved on the rock (visible though the glass) the lower ends have a similar polished surface and glossy transformation because people were touching the cross for centuries whist praying before the glass separation was installed. It is still visible. It is similar to a piano black trim finish.

What is the correlation here?

I firmly believe that frequent exposure of natural substances to human touch makes them to age gracefully and bring out an unparalleled old world charm. This is the most elementary of design patterns created in the interaction between human hands and nature over time.

The human touch is a very powerful tool. It creates magic when it interacts with nature. There is no symmetry in nature and it is as it should be. I am going to borrow from O.Henry, one of my all-time favorites from an obscure story called “Squaring the circle”

Nature moves in circles; Art in straight lines. The natural is rounded; the artificial is made up of angles. A man lost in the snow wanders, in spite of himself, in perfect circles; the city man’s feet, denaturalized by rectangular streets and floors, carry him ever away from himself. The round eyes of childhood typify innocence; the narrowed line of the flirt’s optic proves the invasion of art. The horizontal mouth is the mark of determined cunning; who has not read Nature’s most spontaneous lyric in lips rounded for the candid kiss. Beauty is Nature in perfection; circularity is its chief attribute. Behold the full moon, the enchanting golf ball, the domes of splendid temples, the huckleberry pie, the wedding ring, the circus ring, the ring for the waiter, and the “round” of drinks.

On the other hand, straight lines show that Nature has been deflected. Imagine Venus’s girdle transformed into a “straight front”!

When we begin to move in straight lines and turn sharp corners our natures begin to change. The consequence is that Nature, being more adaptive than Art, tries to conform to its sterner regulations. The result is often a rather curious product for instance: A prize chrysanthemum, wood alcohol whiskey, a Republican Missouri, cauliflower au gratin, and a New Yorker, Nature is lost quickest in a big city. The cause is geometrical, not moral. The straight lines of its streets and architecture, the rectangularity of its laws and social customs, the undeviating pavements, the hard, severe, depressing, uncompromising rules of all its ways — even of its recreation and sports — coldly exhibit a sneering defiance of the curved line of Nature.

Most man made things in life are squared. We always try to square the circle but never circle the square.

Why did I tag design ?

Its that nature shifts design amazingly to adapt to the human touch. When you look at it, its beautiful. Its created quietly over time, its rarely noticeable but suddenly its visible when no is watching. We ought to be learning from nature.

We have a lot of things going on with touch and design in building software apps. People touch apps through their smartphones everyday. These apps are designed for optimum touch experience.

Apps are not natural substances unlike trees and rocks. They are artificial. Technically, people touch their phone screens but the response of the application is considered as the response to touch itself. People consider this response natural and it is something to think of.

Will applications evolve more so naturally to make it easier to use (by touch)? How will app screens look and behave like 30 years from now . How will apps respond to touch then ? Will they be more circular or angular in O.Henrys language ?

All I know, there are no circles yet, mostly squared ones. But, will there be circling of squares naturally?