How Scent Designers Use STEAM Every Day

What do realtors, zookeepers, marketers, chefs, and scientists have in common? They all rely on the science of smell to do their jobs.

More and more industries are turning to scent designers and smell experts to help them achieve their goals. From realtors trying to sell houses to perfume designers and zookeepers checking out funky scents, tapping into the sense of smell requires knowledge of biology, psychology, and chemistry.

Keep reading to learn how various industries use smell to achieve their goals, and how scent designers can work with each of them by using STEAM concepts.  

What Do Scent Designers Do?

What Do Scent Designers Do?

Before you can start to explore the world of scent design and its multiple uses, it helps to know exactly what scent designers do. Essentially, scent designers use various smells, chemicals, and compounds to create scents that evoke emotions or actions in others.

“Designing a perfume involves more than mixing chemicals together,” Lisa Magloff writes at Bizfluent. “Perfume design involves knowledge of science, keeping track of fashion trends, marketing, and having a very good nose for a particular aroma. It is a challenging and highly creative job.”

Scent designers don’t just serve the fashion industry. They work as consultants across the entire economy, helping brands and people develop smells. Many people use scent design skills in their day-to-day jobs, even if they don’t realize it.

Your Nose Drives Your Restaurant Decisions

Scent is one of our most emotional senses, Humayun Khan, product owner at Xello writes. Although we might think about a scent, most people first react to it emotionally. Whether they are pulled toward a scent or push back in a “pee-ew” moment, the logic comes after the emotion. Not only do these scents stay with us for years, they also affect how we shape the world around us.

Restaurateurs across the globe have long realized this, and many have started using scents to lure customers in off the street and to enhance the dining experience.

“Guests’ feelings and experiences are influenced by their five senses,” interior designer Cristina Villalón writes. “The secret to a full house is to use restaurant design psychology to cater to the senses of guests and provide a captivating, authentic, and memorable experience.”

Chef Scott Popovic understands the importance that smell plays in the dining experience. A few years ago, he set the mood at a James Beard House dinner by placing bourbon-soaked cinnamon sticks on each table.

Your Nose Drives Your Restaurant Decisions

“You really need to create a special, unique experience for the guest,” Popovic tells “I didn’t want them to think of being at the James Beard House or that there were 10 chefs in the kitchen. I was trying to transport them to a different mind frame.”

Popovic continues to play with herbs, spices, and other aromas in a teaching position at Polaris Career Center, training the next generation of chefs to keep diners focused on the dining experience, not the kitchen or menu.

Dining is a Multi-Sensory Experience

Most people understand that dining is a taste- and smell-based experience, but researchers are discovering how touch, sound, and sight also play a role.

Experimental psychologist Qian Janice Wang, who is also a software engineer, pastry chef, and wine educator, studies how our senses change our experiences with food. In one example subjects in a study were asked to play notes based on what the wine tasted like. There was a strong correlation between lower notes and dark, earthy flavors and higher notes for fruit and other citrus wines.

It’s no longer that you eat with your eyes, it’s that you eat with all five senses at once.

Dining is a Multi-Sensory Experience

Smells Sell Houses

Smells don’t just enhance experiences, they can also change how your customers perceive the world around them including when it comes to buying a home. This makes scent design an essential part of the real estate process.

Ingrid Woodley at design workflow company Fohlio explains that smell should be included in design elements when you’re developing your brand. For example, cucumber and apple scents make a room feel bigger, while barbecue smoke can make it feel stuffy and smaller than it is. Including a key smell is no different than placing mirrors on a wall to create the illusion of space or opening the windows to get a fresh breeze.

Home staging expert Tori Toth shared some of the top scents that can move homebuyers and evoke positive experiences. The majority of these are simple scents, and include:

  • Citrus fruits evoke freshness.
  • Herbs combine freshness with warmth when used in the kitchen.
  • Vanilla, almond, and mint can make a room feel cozy and inviting.
  • Green tea is refreshing and evokes a sense of harmony.
  • Pine and cedar are ideal during the holidays and winter months.

That being said, choosing top smells requires a delicate touch.

Real estate broker Andrew Hawkes says strong odors in a home can make potential buyers think there’s something wrong. They might think the homeowner is trying to mask another odor. Potential buyers might also have sensitivities to strong odors, so are unable to view the home. Hawkes says less is definitely more when it comes to scents, and it’s better to underdo it than to overwhelm visitors.  

Scent Marketing Drives Customers to Buy

All of this smell research is big business, and some companies are carving out their niches helping brands find their best smells.

ScentAir in Charlotte, North Carolina, is one of the most notable. Along with creating customized scents for businesses, ScentAir sells diffusers that waft scents around customers to create an immersive shopping experience. Think about where the scent comes from next time you walk through a mall or visit a car dealership.

Aroma360 is another scent marketing firm that shows what the nose knows. Farah Abassi, founder and “chief aromachologist” recently explained why the work her company does is so highly valued.

“Studies have shown up to a 40% improvement in mood when exposed to a pleasant fragrance,” she says. “People are naturally inclined to spend more time in places when they feel good, which is why scented environments have been shown to cause an increased linger time.”  

One grocery store, Abassi adds as an example, saw a three to five percent increase in sales when it introduced scents to different areas (like freshly baked bread in the bakery or citrus scents in the produce department).  

Smell Can Also Drive Customers Away

There is an additional benefit to investing in positive scent design and controlling the odors in your business. People remember bad smells just as much as good smells, and when you experience a bad smell somewhere, you never want to go back, Robert Barnett at Modern Restaurant Management writes.

This is especially useful information for restaurants, where 86 percent of adults view the cleanliness of the restroom being as important as the cleanliness of the kitchen. You may have the cleanest kitchen in town, but if your restroom smells bad, customers will run for the door.

Scent Specialists Work Closely With Animals

Scent Specialists Work Closely With Animals

Scent designers don’t just work with perfume companies, realtors, and restaurants. They also work closely with animals and help zoos across the country.

Zookeeper Michelle Valois says she creates enrichment for the hogs at the Denver Zoo by spraying old perfume and other scents that the animals find intriguing. Other scents help all sorts of animals, including primates, mimic the behavior of their counterparts in the wild based on what they smell.

Animal enrichment is essential to the health and well-being of zoo animals. When Putra Mas, a male Asian elephant at the Perth Zoo in Australia, was exhibiting signs of boredeom and listlessness, zoologist Peter Mawson, Ph.D., said keepers tried to help.

One created a game of hide and seek using various scents. The scents would be changed daily, along with their placement. The keepers reported that Putra Mas would explore for hours, and let out a squeak when he found one. His improved demeanor means he can enjoy more activities with the keepers, staving off boredom.

Researching Elephant Scents Helps Solve Real Problems

Knowing what elephants can and can’t smell helps researchers and even government organizations preserve these animals and the people who live around them.

Ashadee Kay Miller, Ph.D. candidate at University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, shared how war in Angola affected elephant populations. When elephants returned to their grazing grounds, researchers found that some were killed by buried landmines, while others knew to avoid those areas.   

“Data collected from collared elephants moving through the affected areas showed herds avoiding minefields,” she writes. “This suggested that at least some of the returning elephants had associated minefields with danger… My colleagues and I set about finding out whether elephants could smell the main component of landmines – Trinitrotoluene (TNT).”

If elephants can help researchers and government officials clear land mines, then Angola will be safer for both the animals and humans living there.

Zoo Scent Researchers Help Cheetahs Breed

Scientists can protect animals in the wild by researching those currently living in captivity. Regina Mossotti, director of animal care at the Endangered Wolf Center, says her research shows that female cheetahs learn about potential mates through the smell of urine. They can tell about a male cheetah’s health, genetics, and readiness to breed just by smelling their pee.

Mossotti traveled the country collecting urine from male cheetahs and then presented the options to female cheetahs. This increased the chances that the females, who are extremely selective and have been known to fight would-be mates to death, would select a male they had a good chance of actually mating with. Based on this selection by scent, one of the cats could be transported to its partner.

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