Chat about sensory design and brand perception - Lauren Davies

Sensory Design & Brand Perception

I did an Instagram live with Alexandra Lunn about my work in sensory design. Alexandra transcribed the live and you can also read it here:

We often think about branding and design in visuals, but have you ever thought about how senses like smell, touch and taste could add to the overall experience and perception of a brand? Founder of Sensory Design Studio HEKA, Lauren Davies is a designer with a sensory focus that is driven by sustainability and wellbeing. She has a love for and skill with flavour, scent and colour. She has worked with global agencies and brands to invent the products of the future and has been hailed as Observer Mag’s ‘Design Star Of The Future’.

What is sensory design and how do you help brands build with it?

Sensory design is essentially designing in such a way that the sensory experience is considered from the very beginning and taken through all executional outputs and touch points. Thinking about products or experiences in a sensory way helps consumers have a more intimate or immersive experience. There may be a project that doesn’t require the sense of smell to be engaged for example. If you did think about this aspect however, it might just elevate your product and improve engagement. I see it as design beyond vision; using all the senses to help give greater meaning, provide connection and make design more inclusive. The main senses we use in the modern world are our sense of vision and sense of hearing. However, touch is the first sense we develop as babies and it provides a sense of connection. The sense of smell is the fastest track to our memories… these two aspects are such important factors that we could leverage more. In today’s world where screens are so much a part of our life, sensory activation is everything.

Tell us about Cradle to Grave at the V&A

I designed a chair using wood from the American Hardwood Export Company (AHEC) and worked with Benchwood and Sitting Firm to have it made.  It was one of  the first design projects to apply lifecycle analysis and assessment  – from cradle to grave – and was exhibited at the V&A along with 11 other chairs also made of hard woods. 

My chair ‘Leftovers Chair’ is a story about food waste and the playfulness / resourcefulness of the kitchen. It was made up of hard woods that were  fruit or nut-bearing or used in food preparation in some way.  Some parts were coloured or ‘flavoured’ using fruit and vegetable dyes and others treated using processes like ‘pickling’ and ‘smoking’. Together, these processes formed a narrative about preservation.

Are there any secrets to building a beauty brand 

The beauty industry has always been very sensory and hence why I do a lot of work in this area. However Building a beauty brand is different to how it was 10 years ago. In terms of secrets, traditionally it has always been about mystery and allure. These days with green beauty rapidly gaining traction and Millenials and Gen Z being very savvy, environmentally-conscious and not brand loyal , it is more about transparency. 

Will you share them?

I’m not sure these are particularly secret, however I can certainly share some tips!

  1. If you feel you have identified a problem that you think needs solving through a new beauty product this is a great area to begin. Do your competitor analysis and market research across your target market to ensure that your hunch is right. 
  2. You don’t have to be solving a new problem and designing a ‘world’s first’ product  – a problem can be as simple as a method of application that could be improved or a new, innovative type of packaging. Perhaps you’ve found a wonderful new ingredient that improves what is currently available on the market.
  3. Any new brand now has to think about the environmental impact of their brand. From ingredients to production, packaging to marketing. It is not enough to just have recyclable packaging these days. Consumers are moving to a place where they demand this to be considered across the whole supply chain.
Best tip for a new beauty brand?

Prepare to work fast and learn how to do lots of things yourself, especially if you are a lean start up. Also, you need to be flexible. Ideas change and adapt as a result of market research and design / financial constraints. However it is a good idea to design your value proposition very early and agree on some brand pillars that will not be compromised. This will give your brand integrity and a clear focus.

Take us through a project where sense was at the centre of the project…

I worked on a sensory strategy for Canopy & Star’s Crane 29 – a pop-up hotel in a crane on the Bristol Harbourside. The idea was bringing the outside in to create a space that would enhance guests’ wellbeing. The space was filled with plants and had wooden walkways, lots of natural wood, copper  and calming colours, There were uplifting scents from natural herbs and soft sounds of the forest playing. 

In the age of Covid and WFH Tips?

Where online purchasing has sky-rocketed, great customer service and working out unique and forward-thinking ways of elevating user experience—where physical contact is not possible—will win you customers. For example, in the beauty industry, traditionally you would go to try cosmetics to find colours / textures etc that work for you but now a lot of this is virtual. It’s really clever what can be done virtually but it doesn’t quite live up to the sensory experience of the in-person purchase for many..