YIMENG YAO

Graduated from Rhode Island School of Design (Class of 2023) with a BFA degree in Graphic Design. 

Currently interning at the Shanghai Rockbund Art Museum.




Featured Projects:

  1. Emobo
  2. Eaz-Eat
  3. Scent Catalog
  4. The Museum Maker
  5. Vertigo


Communication Design
Experimental Design
Experience Design









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©Copyright Yimeng Yao




03  SCENT CATALOG


RISD 2023 BFA Graphic Design Degree Project

TIME: February 2023 - May 2023
TOOLS: Touchdesigner, Adobe AE, PS, AI, ID, Book Design
INSTRUCTOR: Ramon Tejada


Degree Project Final Review Exhibition 
5.23.2023  Design Center, RISD





It is difficult to express our olfactory experiences in words; instead, we tend to associate smells with feelings, objects, or scenarios. Even perfume makers describe smells using metaphorical and technical terms, such as color, composition, and intensity. Smells can constantly change over time due to external factors, evoking different feelings in people.

The close connection between our olfactory system and hippocampus awakens memories from different stages of our lives and brings up various emotions. A specific element of scent awakens special moments and memories by recreating subtle and fleeting feelings. By capturing scents that may have been forgotten, such as the aroma of a wisp of smoke, the musty scent of an old book, or the linear scent of rain in a damp forest, visual associations in the brain are sparked.

Scent catalog intends to investigate my olfactory imprints and create a scent catalog centered around my daily life experience. The catalog presents 64 different scent factors and translates to digital shapes through emotional, spatial, and temporal dimensions.




Final Critique: Ramon Tejada (left) and Kelsey Dusenka (right)





The presentation is divided into three phases:
(to enhance your reading experience, click each point to navigate to specific sections)


1. The process of creating a scent “molecule”
2. Interactions between Scent and Brainwave
3. The showcase of my scent catalog
4. The digital posters of specific scent molecules into scenarios






Part 1.  
Making a scent molecule: A process book & Scent Lexicon



My father lost his sense of smell in the 1990s when he was constructing his home. He cannot feel the smell, cannot appreciate the floral scent in the spring, the freshness of the ocean in summer, the ripe apple in autumn, and the smoky fireworks in winter. Although we always joked that he cannot smell something good, so as the pungent and stinky scents, there is still a deep concern that he would feel isolated and potential risk of not smelling the toxics because he is missing his olfactory protection feature. Many people after getting covid or significant cold, or trauma lose their sense of smell as well, and a lot of them are irreversible. Therefore, I began to think if there is a way to document scent in a visual format.


Inspired by this, I began to document what scents I encountered every day.



I started analyzing and representing them with basic shapes. Realizing that individuals perceive smells differently, and may lead to their own experience, emotion, biological data, and so on, the project is centered around my own experience and interpretations.

I learned that the sense of smell plays an important role in the physiological effects of mood and stress. Electrophysiological studies have showcased that various fragrances affect spontaneous brain activities and cognitive functions. For example, the smell of an orange may provide a relaxing effect and lower a state of anxiety, prompt a more positive mood, and give a higher level of calmness. Conversely, the smell of pepper oil may cause a 40% decrease in relative sympathetic activity. Based on this research, I am interested in how our physiological activity will be affected after encountering smells. Therefore, I wear the brainwave sensor as I smell my floral perfume and peppermint deeply. The result shows that when my brain wave activity is relatively calm, the vertex of the waves, in general, will raise significantly; and when my brain wave activity is more reactive, encountering a noteworthy smell may flatten the graph. Inspired by my own reaction of encountering smell that truly changes my brain wave (though I haven’t figured out the pattern for this change), I decided to apply this brain reaction to my daily recordings of scent.





Therefore, I wear the brainwave sensor as I smell my floral perfume and peppermint deeply. The result shows that when my brain wave activity is relatively calm, the vertex of the waves, in general, will raise significantly; and when my brain wave activity is more reactive, encountering a noteworthy smell may flatten the graph.








picture shows notes from 3.7-3.14
Brain wave sensor



Inspired by my own reaction of encountering smell that truly changes my brain wave (though I haven’t figured out the pattern for this change), I decided to apply this brain reaction to my daily recordings of scent.


I documented what I smelled every day from March 7th, 2023 to April 4th. These smells are recorded under two scenarios:






I deeply smelled the scent of the air, trying my best to perceive and capture the subtle changes:




Coffee time involves a strange smell, the bitterness of coffee grounds lingers in the air

The grassy aroma of red bean and coix seed tea, white and round, with blurry circles

The grassy aroma of red bean and coix seed tea, white and round, with blurry circles



and an overwhelming “scent invasion” that directly dragged my attention.




The boiled water has a short-lasting smell of plastic and rubber
On the bus, the smell of sweat and drugs, the molecule in the air become fattened and taking up all possible spare spaces for me to breath
Outside the design center 8th floor, the peachy-scented perfume, sweet, accelerate all nerves


Below are some of the words I used:



    
         refreshing, 
                     cheap, 
                            rusty,
        
                creamy, 

    strange, 

            grassy, suffocating, 



          burnt, 

spicy, 


      fishy, 
      ripe,

sharp,




artificial, 




salty,


humid


pungent,

linear,


stinky,










Besides adjectives, I use many abstracted phrases:




              


 a modern scent…

a smell of summer, 





artificial paradise,



linear in nature,







a hint of acidity,







I suddenly realized that although the descriptions are abstract and related only to my experience, I’ve already begun to develop a sense of visual form that I can imagine from my descriptions. For example, a spicy smell will be more sharp, repetitive, and visually attractive than a muted moisture smell. A sandalwood perfume made me conjure a more circular and water-color-like texture than the smell of rubber…


Thus, I intuitively drew some basic combinations of forms with different opacities of black ink.


Sketches derived from word descriptions


I asked some of my friends if they can guess some smells by seeing the visuals, and the results were very interesting: they tended to connect the brushstroke into the smell.

For example, if the brushstroke is rough, they would feel a sense of burnt and dry smell, and if the brushstroke is very delicate, they would think of something precious for example the floral, soft, or subtle scents…





To make those molecules connect more to me, I plugged in the brain wave sensor while I smelled some scents to give a more real-time interactive effect to the scent molecule. I imported the real-time data based on the Alpha and Beta waves from the sensor, and connected to x, y, or z axis of the shape. The result is quite astonishing because the changing of the form from a relatively static shape to “crazy” also related to the concept of the Proustian Effect1- Odors have the exceptional ability to instantaneously trigger vivid autobiographical memories. In the final presentation, there are in total 5 examples that showcase the scents and their connections to my physiological data.
Brainwave sensor imput visualization (triggered by Perfume Tamdao)


64 Scent Molecules, Scent Catalog








Poster Design