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Exploring the relevance of smell as a design element: 3D Design student Huilin Li

Huilin Li 4
Huilin Li 4

Written by
Loula Mercedes
Published date
15 June 2018

Camberwell College of Arts Undergraduate and Conservation summer show 2018 will start next Monday 18 June and we have met with our students for a glimpse to their final projects. Here, 3D Design student Huilin Li, from China, tell us about her degree work: NOSTOS – Return to your heart. Huilin collaborated with the perfume company Scent Library in Beijing and the glass company Bergdala Studio in Dalian to produce a series of unique pieces around the theme of nostalgia.

What is your degree work about?

The inspiration for this series of work is nostalgia. Despite the word originally referring to a new-observed physical ailment, people now disregard this meaning and instead focus on its psychological aspects. When a person feels nostalgia, they experience a bittersweet quality to the feeling, which is associated with a memory from the past. The memories between lovers is the most common form of memory to produce the bittersweet feelings of nostalgia. Additionally, nostalgia that is based on personal meaningful memory can be related to the Proustian hypothesis. The project discusses the relevance of smell as a design element and makes use of smells and products to express the feelings of different stages of love.

The most difficult aspect of this project was defining nostalgia. Although the definitions of nostalgia differ somewhat from author to author, there is still the same essential theme. When a person feels nostalgic, there seems to be a bittersweet quality to the feeling which is associated with a memory from the past. Due to the memories that are recalled by the olfactory senses being associated with more emotions than those recalled by the visual or audio senses, I started to consider using smell as a design material.

The products are based on the Proustain Hypothesis, poetry and interviews with target audience in different stages of love.

Additionally, one of the most important interviewees was an elderly man who was over the age of 90 who had experienced wars, countless different homes and the death of his family. When we talked about nostalgia, without prompting, his thoughts turned to his wife, who had died five years before. I tried to express emotions to the public through my work.

Using perfume as a design element in my work played an important role in the storytelling and catering of human emotions. There were similarities between the different fields, so I combined the information that related and developed my ideas from this. I found that nostalgia that is based on personal and meaningful memory can relate to the Proustian hypothesis. I also talked to the professionals in the field of perfumery, knowing a perfume is like knowing a person: the top note is their appearance, the middle note is their personality,  the base note is their true self, and the core note is their soul. Additionally, the olfactory system is related to the hippocampus, which is linked to long-term memory and emotion. That is to say, the brain links smell with memory and emotion.

The different stages of love memories and the accompanying bittersweet feelings are difficult to talk about, but it can be expressed in an art way. I think that beautiful and hand-made products can accurately express human emotions more artistically than products made by machine. The process of exploring the new material of crystal and the design element of perfume within one year was difficult. Luckily, my attempts were finally successful!


How would you describe your design practice? 

I work across a range of methods, materials and technologies, and my practice explores a personal preoccupation with interaction.

I believe that designed objects have their own language and that they speak for themselves. The experiments undertaken during the development process are, for me, a conversation between the designer and the products. I include my self-cognition and experiences in my products, delivering them to users alongside stories and emotions, interacting and communicating with the environment, and in turn producing new stories and emotions.


All pictures courtesy of Huilin Li


Related Links

 BA 3D Design

Summer Show 2018