The Olfactory Grammar

Research projects during MFA @ ArtCenter College of Design

  1. Multisensory Integration Experiments
  2. Sensory Album Prototype
  3. Exploring an alternative way of human communication and interactions


Multisensory Integration - What’s the role of touch, smell or taste in shaping reality?

Collaborator | 
Schei Wang

Translating touch to visuals

One of our experiments is about unveiling the interrelation between olfactory, gustatory, tactile, visual, and acoustic impressions. Participants were asked to touch different objects with their eyes covered, and then draw or describe how they think the objects look like, smell like, taste like, and sound like. With 15 interviewees, we found that the sense of taste correlates well with tactile, visual, olfactory impressions.

Translating smell to visuals

Most of subjects tend to link the smell to physical objects. The interesting finding in this experiment is that the subjects used the same color, brown, as a correspondence with a particular scent, Chinese hot pot powder, consisting of Star anise and so on, even if they thought of the smell as different objects, such as a feeling of sickness, beans, and coffee.

Translating taste to visuals

The patterns of communicating our gustatory experience via touch were explored. The tactile patterns are related to the feelings on our tongues while eating.

By utilizing multi-sensory integration, how might we amplify human senses?


Sensory Album

We have photos and videos saved in albums for preserving our memories and telling our stories in the future. Other than visuals and sound, I was particularly drawn to the rather unique ability of odors to vividly evock emotional experiences. I explored different interactions of smell streaming and discovered how people perceive and interpret the same set of smell.


Different types of interactions were found - one is that participants smell one at a time in a left to right order; another one is that participants smell fast and repeatedly, from left to right and then right to left.

When I asked participants to think of it as a message from their partners, they interpreted it in an ambiguous but interesting way. E.g. “My partner wants me to do something, so he says something sweet first.” “It’s time to do laundry because I smell something dirty and then something fresh.”


Exploring an alternative way of human communication and interactions

Encrypted Messaging System

Nowadays, everything is monitored. What if we developed a new communication method which is Invisible?

Given the close connection between olfaction and hippocampus where it plays a role in emotion, memory and learning, I explored the potentiality of encoding and decoding messages with smell in this project.

Body Mapping

Building on top of the messaging system, I prototyped olfactory wearables and discovered how it could change social dynamics. It was fascinating to see that a new kind of physical interactions could emerge with this system. And the interactions can indicate superiority, level of trust, relationships, and how much information a person is willing to reveal.

Special Thanks Amanda Jensen [ Model, Participant ]
Anjuli Sethi [ Model, Participant ]
Christine Meinders [ Participant ]
Dana El Masri [Interviewee, Perfumer/Founder at Jazmin Saraϊ]
Hyejin Lim [ Model ]
Jessie Mar [ Photographer ]
Jade Milan [ Participant ]
Josh Bookman [ Summery Editor ]
Kiana Bahramian [ Participant ]
Olivia Yang [ Participant ]
Schei Wang [ Participant ]
Speculative Design Workshop Attendees [ Participants ]

Elise Co [ Lead Advisor | Principal of Aeolab ]
Claire L. Evans [ Adjunct Advisor | Singer, writer and artist ]
Mike Milley [ Adjunct Advisor | Director of Designworks BMW group company ]

Department & School
Media Design Practices | Lab
2017 Art Center College of Design | Pasadena, CA

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