Smell – Forgotten Yet Critical Dimension in Product Development?

Year: 2016
Editor: Julie Linsey, Maria Yang, and Yukari Nagai
Author: Gina Limseth, Karen Cuesta, Stephanie Balters, Juan García-Cifuentes and Martin Steinert
ISBN: 978-1-904670-82-7


physiological/cognitive filtering mechanism within the thalamus of the brain, and secondly, the olfactory system is argued to be closely connected to the cortical centers of emotion and memory; both may contribute extensively to a unique user experience. As such, smell carries the potential to bypass/override cognitive functions and may thus directly determine the acceptance/non-acceptance of a product. Hence, the probable (hidden) effects of olfaction on user experience should not be overlooked; this may be of particular importance for value based and emotional based products (McDonagh-Philp and Lebbon, 2000; Desmets et al. 2001) where the olfactory dimension may result in surprising user choices.
Addressing the need to include the smell dimension into the design process and user testing, a first case study was conducted as part of a need finding project aiming to gain knowledge and understanding of the Colombian cleaning market in fall 2015. Cooperating project partners were the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Colombia (PUJ), as well as the German company Henkel AG & Co. KGaA – a multinational company focusing on fast moving consumer good
4th ICDC 2
products within laundry & home care, beauty care, and adhesive technology. In order to get insights into the use of smell in cleaning products, a smell user test experiment (N=30) was set up at the campus of PUJ. Seven detergents with different scents (and colors) and functionalities were poured into identical cups without indication of brand name. Smell/product recognition, smell association, and product/smell acceptance/not-acceptance were further examined. The results of the user experience testing showed that olfaction has a major impact when considering the competitiveness of a cleaning product. Further learnings from this smell user study suggest that (1) smell can be the crucial user experience dimension, (2) by means of smell-testing it is possible to directly determine the (extreme) acceptance/non-acceptance of a product, (3) deciding user preferences by smell is highly subjective and that smell-functionality associations might indeed be formed through cultural upbringing and personal memory, and (4) it is possible to create a smell that users connect to a specific product (smell branding). Moreover, the case study revealed that (5) it is possible to conduct easy, simple, and rapid testing of smell that generate important insights.
Conclusively, we argue for the importance to include olfaction as critical design function. This results in the need to not only build standard prototypes when we do rapid prototyping and/or human centered design, but to make allowances for supplementary olfactory design tools. We call for the need to include “rapid smell prototyping” and smell user testing in the early stage design process. Going even further and holistic, we propose to return to the actual sensations when designing, in order to generate different types of interaction prototypes that (un-)cover the entire spectrum of possible interaction components and dimensions. Specifically, we propose to use the Quantified Object Sensation Index (QOSI) framework (Balters et al. 2015) as a tool for user centered design with the intent to make the designer aware of the entire range of possible sensorial inputs possibilities, from a physiological and thus objective perspective. In the next working step, we will deploy the QOSI matrix to several test cases in order to design a sensorial based consumer test.

Keywords: smell, olfactory sensory system, user centered design, user-experience, quantifying objects and prototypes

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