ORAL is a project developed by Yuxi Liu and Jing Yu during the Sensory Design course at CIID under the guidance of Yasaman Sheri.
Design a sensory interface to a (digital) interaction. Define an existing interaction and focus your sensory experience.
ORAL is intimate. Intimacy is core to our health and experience. Not all of us have access to this fundamental need — many lack the time, ability, money or luck. ORAL distills key intimate experiences, such as sex, into accessible gustatory immersion kits. Our carefully engineered kits require no setup, no uncomfortable human interaction, are 100% plant-based and certified organic. At ORAL, we believe everyone deserves an intimate experience as rich and immersive as the real thing — ORAL is affordable and can be found with select retailers or delivered straight to your door.
Early on during our ideation phase, we spoke about the nature of communication between people, how the lion’s share of it is performed using language. For us, words fell flat when trying to illustrate complexities such as multi-sensory experiences. We seized the brief as an opportunity to dive into the world of gustatory perception — to experiment with flavors and textures without thinking of it as food but a method with which to communicate a story, to try and capture a full-body experience into the single dimensionality of taste.
Taste and sex are some of the most personal and subjective experiences possible. Paradoxically, communication relies on a shared understanding of an input (e.g. vocabulary). Our challenge designing for ORAL was — if our senses are highly subjective, can we use sensory immersion as an effective means of implementing a designer’s intention beyond subliminal messaging?
We started by attempting to understand the scope of subjectivity of taste. We had 12 participants taste a wide panel of flavors, ranging from tapioca gel to pink peppercorns. Each person was given instructions to reflect on the emotions and memories (if any) of the taste and texture, rather than describing the taste itself.
Interesting cultural patterns and surprising outliers began to emerge. For example, the acerbic sweetness of red currants seem to rank highly in the “nostalgic” category among Indian and Western European participants. From our participants, we also learned vocabulary for flavors such as 腥 (xing), તુરુ (turu) and 느끼 (nukki) that do not have precise translations in the English language. There were participants who had particularly extreme reactions to certain ingredients, outliers usually had specific stories or genetics (e.g. cilantrophobes) determining their reactions to tastes. For simplification, we pooled and “averaged” the reactions of each flavor to generate a palate of tastes to use to try and communicate an intimate experience, in this case, sex. Tastes that were too divisive or polarizing, such as blue cheese, were not appropriate in this initial prototyping phase but could potentially be included in personalized ORAL kits.
To help keep the design relatively objective, we researched the formal stages and sensations of heterosexual intercourse. Most literature we found defines four stages of sex; excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution — which for the purposes of clarity (and marketing) we renamed as (1) Foreplay (2) Build-up (2) Orgasm and (4) Afterglow. Using the palette of flavors we had catalogued, we build each stage as a combination of 3–4 of the flavors closest to the sensations attributed to the stage. Once the flavors were found and ratios adjusted to make each component relatively palatable — we turned our focus to the texture and delivery of each stage.
The design of the delivery was not initially a consideration. In the early stages ORAL was intended to be delivered in pill form, the juxtaposition between the sterility of blister packaged pills and the intimacy of sex struck a tension in the product that was quite appealing to us*. However, it became clear that taste alone was too abstract — the fidelity of the experience could not be carried without designing for texture and delivery. The choices made for delivery were more subjective, some meant to help carry the flavor and others help clearly illustrate the stage of sex the component was meant to convey.
*see: critiques on the present
ORAL is an unabashedly analog product and because it has no technology to hide behind, it is important to finesse every element starting with packaging. The “unboxing” experience has become a viral expression of the fetishization of consumerism, a sentiment we were eager to embrace with ORAL*. In our design, we pay homage to the attention to detail and minimalism of apple’s packaging design. Packaging is our first engagement with the customer and therefore our first chance to generate anticipation and satisfaction. We paid special attention to strike a balance in the packaging that was beautiful and polished while still being something believably mass market. So for materials, we chose a thick, semi-glossy card stock to build our containers from — the finish had an appropriate rigidity and refinement while not being as precious as acrylic or painted mdf.
*see: critiques on the present
CRITIQUES ON THE PRESENT
This was an indulgent piece of dystopian design fiction. A provocation to question the Blue Aprons, care/of, and especially the Soylents of Silicon Valley. These are services and produces already out there that help automate “basic human necessities” like food and nutrition. Products which make human experiences more convenient but don’t necessarily make our lives all that much better. Yet, there is no denying there is a real need — people do lack time, ability, etc. to “have the real thing.” The rise of these types of products espouses the Silicon Valley idea of lynchpinning, the idea that you can make your whole life better if you make some “inconvenient” task better or easier. With the surge of the Artisan/Crafted and Slow-Food movement — we feel society is finding out that is not always true. That there is a value in the real thing that cannot be mocked. ORAL is meant to be an extreme expression of that sort of lynchpinning, while still having real function, real intrigue (though that’s not too hard with sex), and a real sensory experience.
THOUGHTS ON THE FUTURE
Of course, there will always be room for further refinement. However, there are two conceptual extensions of ORAL that we did not have the chance to explore.
The first being extensions on intimate experiences. ORAL was not meant to be a sex-focused product but a sensory kit for intimate experiences that could include experiences such as a first date or lovers quarrel. The second being personalized ORAL kits. Kits that would take one person’s unique subjectivity around taste and map that to unique flavor profiles for different types of intimate experiences. Personalized ORAL kits could be sent to friends or lovers to experience a synesthetic blend of each other’s subjective tastes.