Research Questions

1. How to engage senses that can create meaningful design?

2. How can scent trigger memories and emotions?

3. Can I learn scents the way I learned the ABCs and 123s?


Connie Hwang, SJSU Graphic Design Professor
Primary Advisor

Diane Lee, SJSU Graphic Design Assistant Professor
Secondary Advisor

Jp Tran, Senior UX Designer at Intuit
Tertiary Advisor


Senses mix with memory and experience. Human body engages in countless acts of touching, hearing, licking, smelling, and constantly making sense of the world. Sensory experience hits us from many directions, which allows us to absorb information from more than one senses simultaneously. With this ability, we are able to speed up our understanding, process information faster, and react when necessary. What fascinating is typography is the language of letters and one of the languages in design. How we read and how we behave echo the meaning of words, the shapes and styles of typefaces. Type doesn’t exist to make words look pretty, but it carries meaning beyond what we see. Our memories are often triggered by our sense of scent, which is a powerful tool in remembering those unforgettable moments.

We should question the tyranny of the eye and make the experience more enticing by including other senses. This exhibition explores the sensory
experience of typography through the sense of smell. I want to create an environment that is fun, educational, and thought provoking that might inspire others to create their projects through sensory approach. Our sense of smell is one of the most powerful abilities we possess. It allows us to absorb, to process, and to translate information simultaneously. So why not take advantage of this ability to develop an in-depth understanding of our environment and broaden our frame of mind. Using smell and alphabet as a metaphor of translation to support everyone’s opportunity to receive information, social connections, and experience emotions.


Thesis Outline

Reaching beyond vision, A to Z for the Nose is a manifesto for an inclusive, multisensory design practice. This gives everyone an opportunity to explore an alternative way to analyze information, explore the world, and experience joy, wonder, and social connections.


Designing an exhibition is an acquirement of what I have learned in the BFA. I fell in love with the process of design thinking while curating a space. The connections between us and space is fascinating. Our moods and behaviors change according to where we are. Therefore, nothing is more appropriate than an exhibition to share, to celebrate the qualities of place and design.
Everything connects. Colors, letters, and senses are forms of communication that we use it on a daily basis, but somehow we do not connect the dots together. To us, these metaphorical pairings are a form of abstract thinking. Apparently, there are a group of people who could combine these pairings simultaneously. They are synesthetic. A condition that allows people to see colors when they’re listening to a song or to smell scent when they see a color.


Certain colors are associated with certain categories of smell. We know that color is an important element to be used in communication, being able to provoke feelings and memories in people. We argue that the appropriate pairing of colors and scents allow more effective communication. Despite the perception being an individual phenomenon, some studies have shown that there is a trend to a collective perception.

My hypothesis is that there is a relationship between colors and smells. Taking the lavender smell as an example, when the scent is named as Lavender it is common to find the use of green and purple colors so as to represent the smells. With that said, it is common to find associations between colors and smells based on the colors of the raw materials used in the scent.

Visual Approach

Make Sense with Scents is the last interactive part of the whole exhibition. It is a final reveal of the methodology of how colors, scents, and letters are paired with one another. There are hidden drawers inside the wall, which visitors can push open and pull them out. It will be frame-like secret drawers where the front has the name of the scent and description. While in the back, it shows a visual queue of that scent being paired with a letter. This will give visitors an idea why there are colors beneath the scratchable surface of each letter.

A to Z for the Nose is a test of time. The exhibition itself is involving and ever changing through the interaction from the audience. They are part of the whole experience, actively involved in the process of changing the look and outcome of the exhibition.


This thesis has surprised me in so many ways. At the beginning, I didn’t intend to design another exhibition project. One, I was not good with Fusion 360, and two, I know how long and hard work it is to start everything from scratch and bring my concept alive. This thesis is so special to me because I thought I could not design an exhibition by myself and let alone a concept that I thought not serious enough and less educational. But it turns out more than that. Maybe, just maybe. This fun concept somehow can grow to something bigger than life. I am thankful for everyone who supported me through this design journey, I would not be the person who I am today if it were not for the physical and mental support from my parents, my professors, mentor and the BFA members.

  2020 timeiswhatyoumakeofit