Oct 12, 2017 · 5 min read

I was invited to speak at the “UK Fragrance Forum 2017”. The event revolved around the multi-faceted nature of smell - the role that smell plays (will play) in (wearable) health, art, mapping, science, and even design of font types. Thanks to the Royal Society for hosting us.

What’s the future of the fragrance industry? In one sentence: it’s all about personalisation. It’s clear that fragrance-based products will be increasingly tailored to individuals. It’s unclear how that is going to happen — how will “the Netflix of fragrances” look like?

How to make a mosquito Invisibility cloak

@ProfJamesLogan | James Logan, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

By studying human odors, James and collaborators figured out that human-derived repellents work against mosquitos as well as the quite effective — yet synthetic — Deet.

In the near future, there will be new wearables that will release compounds to repel mosquitos and that will be able to even detect malaria! Well done James!

Art, Smell and Sanitation

@artandperfume | Christina Bradstreet, The National Gallery.

“How did the Pre-Raphaelites respond to the stench of the River Thames, in the summer of 1858? Christina’s talk explored how urban stink influenced artists in Britain and beyond in the nineteenth-century.” To cheer you up, consider how smell was seen back then:

It comes as no surprise that, in that climate, artists were avoiding representing smells. However, as “germs theory” filtered in the public sphere, smell went from “being guilty” to “being guilty until proven innocent” (there was room for celebrating pleasurable smells) and, as such, artists (e.g., Monet, James McNeill Whistler) started to portray smell:

RossettiLady lilith
Rossetti, Venus Verticordia

Smelly Maps

@danielequercia | Daniele Quercia, Nokia Bell Labs Cambridge

SmellyMaps is our research project! It’s a new way of capturing the entire urban smellscape from social media data (i.e., tags on Flickr pictures ). Cities are victims of a discipline’s negative perspective — only bad odors have been considered. The SmellyMaps project aims at disrupting this negative view and, as a consequence, being able to celebrate the complex smells of our cities.

Synaesthesia — a blending of the senses

Dr Clare Jonas, University of East London

“Synaesthesia is a fascinating condition in which the senses become entangled so that music might appear to have shapes, or smells have colours.” In this talk, Clare discussed “what synaesthesia is and how it relates to mechanisms of multi-sensory perception in the general population.” I learned six things. First, people with synaesthesia tend to have distinctive characteristics:

Second, the concept of cross-modal correspondence — the interactions between two or more different sensory modalities — has huge potential.

Third, cross-modal correspondence is not universal as it does change across cultures.

In the correlation matrix below, countries with similar cross-modal correspondences are blue, while those with dissimilar experiences are red (e.g., Germany is similar to US but not to Holland or China).

Fourth, if you would like to experience synaesthesia to an extent greater than you currently do, you can always train yourself with browser plug-ins:

Fifth, there is a difference between synaesthesia and cross-modal correspondences:

Sixth, cross-modal correspondences are used in product packaging — see “Using color-odor correspondences for fragrance packaging design” (pdf) & “On the Colours of Odours” (web).

Wake up and smell the fonts!

@sarahhyndman | Sarah Hyndman, Type Tasting
“Visual language influences all of our senses as it tells the story of a product. The visual translation of luxury, gender or smell creates anticipation, informs our choices and enhances our experiences. Innovative new research into crossmodal perception is mapping the typography of smell; understanding this enables us to use visual language to accentuate nuances and nudge behaviour.”

A case in point is fonts used on product packages. Depending on the font used on a product’s package, our perception of that product being cheap vs. expensive changes:

Don’t get overly excited though — something that tastes bad will taste just taht no matter the font used. That’s because of “broken expectations” — the expectations that people have about a product still impact the way that product is perceived. The main take-away message is that:

Great design is authentic, generates anticipation, and ultimately gives honest experiences.

All of that might well offer new ways of nudging people in changing their food consumption patterns

P.S. Most of the event’s attendees worked at “Fragrance Houses”, and I had fascinating conversations with a few of them. If you are interested in how perfumes are made, please have a look at this.


Social Dynamics Group


Written by

social media researcher @ bell labs


Social Dynamics Group

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