Headways into a new presence

The recent transformation of our working life has made many think about their environments. In the previous post, you read about the concept of smelling and observation. If that made you curious to discover more, read on for how environments transform into enjoyable ones using the perception of smell. If you work remotely from time to time, you’ll be able to take simple steps that render your workspace, and thereby, your days, more fulfilling and productive.

Disclaimer: This isn’t an aromatherapy article. No lavender bath salts in here. Neither is this about scent marketing. Rather, it serves as an exploration about the space around you. This piece guides you to ask curious questions about the kind of presence you aspire to foster at this place that’s your home – but also your office.

1. The vibe. Let’s make one thing clear: choosing a smell for your personal workspace doesn’t have to be like choosing a perfume! For one, you don’t have to obey the ‘social codes’ that govern office life (as witnessed by our wardrobes over the past two years). Even more excitingly, the variety in ambient scent (room fragrance) is larger than that of personal care products. And because a scent is invisible, it offers you another way to express yourself. For example, you could rock a white shirt to the team Zoom call whilst channelling festival vibes via an indie scent creation. Then, switch it up for deep work time, perhaps matching the scent to your favourite focus music. Get started by having a few options around your desk throughout the week. When testing them, go with your gut feeling: ‘would this make me feel better/insert as needed if I smelled this during a work meeting?’. 

2. The role. What role would you like the scent to play for this space? Does your workspace move around, or do you work in cafés or coworking spots? You might want to opt for something that you can pick up and take with you and that’s private, like a scented hand sanitizer. If you travel and stay at a hotel, bring an incense set, as it’s lightweight and goes in hand luggage. Otherwise, if you’re settled in your home office and looking for some motivation to get you through those summer months (when all you want to do is work from a park), you can do that by adding a stationary scented object. Most retailers offer accessible models that use major diffusion methods like capillary (reed), electric or porous (ceramic). If you’d rather have an object that’s aesthetically pleasing and even highlighting your personal style, there are options for that as well. A fine collection of examples is currently exhibited at the San Francisco Design Museum, on display until June 5, 2022.

living with scents
Entrance to the Living with Scents exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design

3. The type of space. Is this a living area? Is it connected to other spaces? Does your home have an open plan kitchen leading into your workspace? You may have observed how the scent (or malodour) lingers and sticks to furnishings. The first solution is venting, of course. But sometimes it can be handy to cut through the ‘noise’ with a contrasting scent using a room spray that instantly shifts thoughts from ‘burrata’ to ‘budget’. However, it’s good to keep in mind the potency of the scent as it’s related to the size of the room – generally speaking, the larger the volume, the more diffusion power needed to make the switch. Bear in mind though that certain smells are perceived easier, and there are individual differences, too.

4. The value. Do you buy clothing items that have resale value, or do you own an artwork that you acquired because it spoke to you in some way? If your answer to either of these questions is yes, take a look at olfactory sculptures. True works of craftsmanship, these are original works by an artist, released in singles or small editions. That means that they are rare and unique objects and only traded by a handful of galleries. Designed to emit scent, these items are as beautiful to look at as they are functional.

5. Pay attention. At best, olfactive design can alter the mood of the space and direct the style, but also enhance and complement. Look around you and consider what are some other subtle sensory elements that do this? Does your floor creak in a special way that makes you feel home? Do you find the view from your office window relaxing? Think singular, stationary, and sound, things that are harder to change yet acceptable – the anti-playlist if you will. In the same way, it’ll be the recognisable, yet practically unnoticeable permanence of the scent that can draw you in and even foster routines so that you can make the most of your day.

The above is part of our recent research into transformation of work and multisensory design. There are many considerations beyond what’s summarised above, especially related to safety and sustainability of olfactory applications, so if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.