To use smell for design, we need to analyze what ambient smells are in the space, limit those odors that are not pleasant nor are able to augment the design intentions, then we need to determine what scents are appropriate for the design, and finally develop how the smells are imparted. In a basic way, we can partake of smell through our nose, through our mouth, and also in conjunction with taste. In fact, much of the taste experience is actually smell. As we determine the scents to use, we need to employ our strategy of starting from nothing and building up. Again, smell can pervade space, and it can annoy some much more than a visual or aural stimulus if overused and consistent.
Smell can improve a design by scents’ connotations and the simple odor produced. We can stimulate the user by the providing positive and negative smells, which will affect mindset. However, if we can research or understand the user, we can use smells that affect the user emotionally through memory and familiarity. This is not crucial, but to have scents that have personal meaning can really propel a design in the mind of the user. Because it is so tied into our brain with memory, we can create much more of an impact with it, if used properly. To use it properly, we must be subtle and with intention.
If we create a design using only smell, we would have an ever evolving space without orientation, and those more complex scents would pass and fade faster than the simpler smells, because of degradation and size of the compounds. We cannot use smell for spatial definition other than general boundaries, and instead, we would use it to affect the point of view or outlook of the user. Although this is an interesting experiential possibility, it may not be a good choice for day to day use, without the other senses. However, there is no reason not use it in conjunction with the other senses.
If we were to not incorporate smell in design, we would have a very flat experience. Although most traditional design does not think about scent in relation to the project, it is crucial to create a more rounded experience, even if the smells are coincidental and unrelated to the design intent. However, opening our design process to the sense allows us to have direction and strategy to have a more cohesive design. To not have smell, we would have a much more uninteresting installation.
Beyond the typical use of smell, we can use it as an alarm or notification. It could be much more enjoyable to understand it is time through the odor of coffee or magnolia than a buzzing alarm. We can also use scent as a marker so that one can find their way around a complex space. For example, we can have the cleaners or a air freshener that smell like jasmine in one area of a hospital, thyme in another, and other similar scents by department and floor so as to give the user an understanding of place. Again, we cannot orient with scent in a single space, because it broadcasts throughout a certain area, but because it travels through a given space, we can mark each of these spaces with their own scent. Furthermore, it is possible to have scents match or align by floor, to intuit the level of building.
We can also use smell as part of a retrofit or renovation of a space. Simple changes in cleaners, furniture, and textiles, or other items that accept and hold scent, can change the mood of a space. This should be done with a purpose in mind. Although many choose the items to include in a space by availability, these really affect the spatial experience. Can we have an objective when selecting these elements, beyond the visual or the pragmatic? The more we do, the more cohesive is the design. Where possible, we should design to the highest and best use.
There are many methods and technologies we can use to provide a scent sensory experience, and the designer should not ignore smell as part of the design. Although it might be difficult in the current design field to envision the use of smell, with the use of electronics, actuators, and traditional methods, we can provide the richer experience that the phenomenon of smell and memory affords. Out of all of the senses, smell is one of the most successful in integration with technology, especially deploying perfumes with servos and hardware such as Arduino.