Creativity is an interesting subject because it is manifested in good design. Design can be translated into various forms but in the end, it is an expression of new or inspiring ideas. I believe a few recognize the energy as God or Intuition speaks to them through one of their five senses and the individual captures the message. Beethoven captured the message with music, Van Gogh with art and Ernest Beaux with Chanel no. 5 and his fine fragrances.
Poetic as that may be, most of us in the design world operate on a different source of energy and I like to compare the process of our responding to this energy to the way a dog behaves when it smells something. Most of us are influenced by a particular sense—as a dog is influenced by smell—and as the ideas or impulses that spring from the well of influence start to penetrate our brains, we have a difficult time focusing on anything else. What makes us different from the poetic set is that we can collectively choose the idea (or scent) that will benefit our motivation. What sets us apart from the non-design world is our drive. When many people give up or move on to other ideas, we simply keep on going.
I am like a dog—I have a trained sense of smell. I use olfaction to boost my creativity and, as I do whenever I have a creative impulse, I explore many avenues to motivate ideas. Currently, I am working on a project for FUSE, a design show. My goal is to teach the design community how scent can influence design. The objective will be to teach people what various colors can smell like and to demonstrate the research associated with color and design.
However, this project is taking its toll on me, as creativity is not flowing the way I would like. Therefore, I find myself creating what I like to call “think tanks” focused on scent. Some days I go to the local grocery store and purchase fresh dry herbs and teas. I spend hours smelling, writing and using the exercise to clear my mind, stirring up fresh wells of creativity in the process. Similarly, scent can be a great tool to help your team with creative briefs or design elements in packaging or marketing objectives.
Scent games are a great learning curve and creative opportunity. Take five aromas such as peanut butter, cat food, tuna and so on (opportunities are limitless!) and place them in covered jars. Smell and see which member of your team can correctly identify the most. You can use aromas specific to projects you are working on. For example, if you are designing pet graphics, try various pet foods. To inspire creativity it is best to experiment with scents that can be considered odd rather than common or popular scents (we all love chocolate but the smell of anchovies will shock the brain).
Many times, we can find various scents in a number of household products such as cleaning supplies, candles and dryer sheets. Many companies have interesting scents that will challenge your sense of smell. If you are serious, go to Demeter.com and try smelling Gin & Tonic, Hello Kitty, or Cannabis flower; you will get some interesting conversations going.
Finally, present this question to your team: “what does the project smell like?” This will allow others to share interpretations and ideas of what it is or could be. Scent is a key emotional trigger for us mainly because aromas penetrate the limbic system of the brain. This area of the brain is key to creativity, and this is the reason we can become so emotional about a scent.
I recently attended an innovation seminar at which the speaker proclaimed “if we go to the meeting with an idea and leave with the same idea, then we have failed—we have not experienced any creativity or innovation and we have let down our clients.”
So designers, take heed: add a little scent to your next meeting and watch what will happen.