Language of Aroma

A SXSW Panel on Designing for Inclusivity

At SXSW 2019, TEALEAVES held a collaborative panel with Microsoft and Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, to discuss how inclusive design principles can be used to create the language of aroma. The main goal? To honor this forgotten sense, and to enhance the ability to receive information, explore the world and experience joy through aroma.

Why is a Tea Company at SXSW with Microsoft Design and Cooper Hewitt?


Lana Sutherland, Co-founder & CEO of TEALEAVES, led the audience through TEALEAVES’ journey to communicate aroma, explaining the various right and left brain representations created, ranging from watercolor expressions of mood to the categorization of aroma molecules.

“Inclusivity is the nature of tea: The beverage has a long history of being a sign of welcoming, respect and hospitality, of bringing people together across cultural barriers and differences, but when we lack that shared vocabulary to bring words to those experiences, we are unable to share those moments.”

Margaret Price, Principal Design Strategist at Microsoft led the audience through the main principles of Inclusive Design, and how the methodology was applied to the creation of TEALEAVES’ Language of Aroma.

Margaret conveyed that while we’re not all in the field of aroma design, there is plenty that can be learned from the principles that guide aromatic design efforts to be applied to any type of design work.

“If we think a little bit differently about diversity, we can see it as a really interesting way to find, to frame, to solve problems and act as an engine for innovation. ”

Ruth Starr, Accessibility Manager at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, spoke to the ways in which we have designed for the sense of smell throughout history. From antiquated artifacts such as smelling salts, to novelty items of the day, like cherry-scented wallpaper.

Her takeaways: We use sensory experiences to engage with the world each day. The effect of scent is universal, yet the effect of a particular scent is deeply personal.

“When we think about how people are able to communicate about their direct experience and build that understanding of someone else, we get into this need for language.”

On the heels of SXSW 2019, we are proud to share this panel discussion with you.

Margaret Price, Principal Design Strategist, Microsoft

“We know that aroma has the direct power to affect and even enhance our
human experience. And yet, how many of us can articulate, can recognize
and understand to communicate the number of scents, the number of aromas,
that we’re taking in on a daily basis?”

“Senses are unique to every person. They are very much interpretive. We have a biological response to sensory inputs but we also have an interpretation or association. Because of this, sensory experiences are subjective.”

Ruth Starr, Accessibility Manager at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Lana Sutherland, Co-founder & CEO, TEALEAVES

“After applying color to the world of aroma, what other ways can we make aroma accessible to people? We want to see, is there already a universal language of aroma like something that Pantone created for color?”