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How to visualise scents? As a designer I’ve been creating many visuals on mobile and desktop applications. When it comes to designing the experience of a different sense — smell, it poses an intriguing challenge.

What does a smell look like?

What a smell looks like (Image by Brian Gill)
Smell map of Edinburgh (Image by Kate McLean)

A user-centric approach to visualise scents


  • le nez du vin, a tool which is used to train and develop olfactory acuteness. Each bottle is specified with one particular scent. We prepared a few bottles with a range of easy-to-guess scents such as “orange”, “pear”, as well as less obvious ones such as “sandalwood”, “oak”, “eucalyptus”
  • Different types of drawing tools: pens, colour pencils, marker etc.
  • White sheets of paper


  1. We verbally name a few scents and ask participants to draw the scents on the paper
  2. Let participants smell each bottle of “le nez du vin” without telling them what scent it is, then participants draw the scent accordingly
Participants are encouraged to use as many tools as they like



  • People tend to associate scents with objects or scenes they are familiar with
  • People have some sharing perceptions about the colour and geometry of certain scents

Source: Visualising scents: a user-centric approach | by Jian He | Medium