The Color of Smell

The interactive art installation attempts to let “non-synesthetes” experience visual-olfactory synesthesia. Smell is being used as a design material to enhance a cross-modal perception.


TP1 thesis project: Hannah Weiser /

The complete thesis document

The installation is the practical project supporting my master thesis’ research. This video shows and explains the prototype. “The Color of Smell” is a tool that enables to paint with smell. The spatial installation consists of a selection of natural and synthetic aromas, a smell-brush and a multi touch table top. A smell-brush enables to pick up smells and transport them to the table top above which the smell can be released and distributed.

The Design Process & Research

Testing smell associations

The aim of this experiment was to animate the test-subjects to consciously and actively make cross-sensory connections, with smell being one modality involved. The reaction and experience of the participants regarding the chosen connections was documented, analyzed and evaluated to further the design process.

Color-Smell mapping workshop

Participants were presented four smells (lily, melon, cedar wood and vanilla) preserved in essential oils which were chosen to grant a comparable intensity of the smells. No distinct visual cues were available. Workshop participants were asked to smell one smell at a time and choose one or more representative colors out of a preselected range of colored pens. Additionally, the participants were asked to draw patterns or shapes characterizing the smell.

Color-Smell mappings final prototype

The oils used in the Color-Smell mapping workshop served for the final Color-Shape mappings. These graphical mappings were combined in an animation. The synesthetic experiences that the participants of the experiments and the color-mapping workshop reported, were crucial for the final visual representation of the smells.

Smell-Brush workshop and testing the prototype

Several Smell-Brush prototypes were used in the final installation prototype according to the desire of participants of the workshop, to have a variety of different smell-brushes at their disposal. All smell-brushes presented had a pick-up & drop function and incorporated an air-flow, either facilitated through a ventilator, a fan or a pipette-like function.

Final prototype

The physical prototype consists of a wooden box with a semi-transparent top representing a multitouch table. Inside a projector is placed, projecting upwards the animation of color-smell mappings. A smaller table holding a collection of smells and smell brushes is placed in close distance to the imitated multitouch table. The prototype was tested with the “Wizard of Oz” technique, due to its technical constraints. When an aspiring smell painter approached the table with a brush holding one of the smells the animation was started, giving the impression that the color-mapping appeared simultaneously to the movement of the brush.