how can smell and taste sensations help enrich our technology experiences…?

Pioneering Sussex research presented at a recent conference in Toronto could pave the way for how taste and smell could be used in technology design.

Dr Marianna Obrist, a Lecturer in Informatics presented two papers to the ACM CHI 2014  on her findings in multi-sensory experiences which used detailed description and classification schemes adapted from the food and wine industry at the flagship international academic conference on human-computer interfaces.

Her research into taste involved an experiment which used odourless and colourless stimuli. People were asked to express their experiences in relation to the five basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami) both verbally and via non-verbal methods.

Participants described sour, for instance, as short-lived: “You’ve got this ‘Whoa’ sensation, feels quite strong to start with. Then it has gone super quick”, while umami was experienced as lingering “So it is kind of strong and it also stays. It doesn’t have a peak; it doesn’t go up and down; it just stays”. Experiences of different tastes also created ‘whole body’ experiences, such as for sweet “It’s just sort of the feeling of viscosity, the sweetness and this cloud is just a bit more mouth feel”.

Dr Obrist explained the relevance of these findings for technology: “If you are playing a computer game, the specific characteristics of individual tastes could be useful to enhance the gaming experience. When a person moves between related levels of a game, a continuing taste like bitter or salty is useful. Whereas when a user is moving to distinct levels or is performing a side challenge, an explosive taste like sour, sweet, or umami might be useful.”

In another study exploring smell experiences, Dr Obrist used a large online survey to understand the role of smell in relation to personal memorable moments. A total of 439 ‘smell stories’ were collected and analysed with respect to the specific emotions they elicited.

Dr Obrist and her collaborators are now exploring interactive visualisation techniques in order to represent the findings to designers. For more details, follow her research on her website.

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