Thursday, March 5, 2009
When I lectured along with Stuart Firestein at Purchase College last week, one of my topics was American smellscapes. I spoke about odor mapping, including Gawker’s New York City Subway Smell Map, Japan’s Smell Club, and my mapping of the recent St. Louis Big Stink.
A few days later I got an email from a graphic designer named Esther Wu. A friend of hers had been in the audience and told her about my fascination with smell maps.
For an art school project, Wu decided to graphically display her observations about the smell of a Dunkin’ Donuts shop that she walked past on the way from the subway to the design studio. For a couple of weeks she systematically noted where she detected the aroma as well as the time and weather conditions.
She assembled and visually summarized all this information in a beautifully thought-out graphic. It’s a marvel of concise data display. I’ve posted a fragment of it above and I encourage you to visit her site to view the whole stylish piece.
The lack of visual representations is one of the difficulties in studying the psychology of odor perception. Chemists have models of molecular structure and anatomists can trace the olfactory nerves with dyes. But for smells loose in the real world, psychologists and odor trackers need a compelling visual representation. Esther Wu’s artistic approach is a great starting point.