Research Project (III):
Synthetic ingredients for fine fragrance

synthetic fragrance ingredients / perception / design probes / fragrance communication / consumer engagement / marketing


Research Project (III) was developed with the support of the global company International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), a company who had an interest in advancing consumer perception, particularly in the field of synthetic fragrances and related ingredients.

Synthetic ingredients are created as chemical molecules by perfumers in the lab, and are used in the perfume industry to add to and enhance the range of natural ingredients, e.g. rose and lavender oils.  The process of synthesising fragrance ingredients through chemistry allows for technical, environmental and human factors to be integrated in the scent molecule whilst it is being created. 

The challenge

IFF recognised that selling synthetic ingredients to their industry clients presented a challenge due to pertinent negative associations with the notion of ‘synthetic’.  

Despite the unique selling points of perfumers’ synthetic creations, a challenge arises when relating such fragrance ingredients to potential clients, and in addition consumers.  Generally, ‘natural’ is considered good as it is familiar and instinctively closer to human concerns.  ‘Synthetic’ in this particular context is viewed as being negative, ‘chemical’ and therefore inferior in quality, echoing historical examples such as the introduction of synthetic textile materials to broader fashion and textile markets at the beginning of the 20th century.

Research in Practice:
‘The Scented Tee’ workshop

‘The Scented Tee’ workshop was a participatory workshop designed to test consumer engagement with synthetic fragrance ingredients by:

  1. Eliciting cognitive and sensory response to ten synthetic fragrance ingredients;
  2. Participants choosing one synthetic fragrance ingredient as the basis for their T-shirt design;
  3. Participants wearing the printed T-shirts in the public domain, to assess whether the T-shirt acted as the probe it was intended to be.

Location:  Kingston University London
Participants:  9 participants (7 female / 2 male), recruited from the University

Research findings

Participants were open to sensory and cognitive engagement with fragrance ingredients irrespective of whether the ingredients presented were of natural or synthetic origin, familiar or foreign, pleasant or unpleasant.

Participants experienced no difficulty in associating fragrances across the olfactory-vision sensory modalities.  Associating fragrance with texture, however, elicited a cross-sensory response and greater emotional and memory-saturated cognitive responses

Participant response to the designed T-shirt probes in this Proposition was consistently positive, and had value in providing research rigour to the study, while also paving the way for the employment of design methods and tools in olfactory design, development, and marketing.

Project supervision: Prof Jane Harris (DoS), Dr Paul Micklethwaite
Partnering Institutions: International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. (IFF)
Funding: Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA) Kingston University London, SKIP (AHRC)

International Flavors & Fragrances, Inc. (2010) Perfumer’s Compendium.
Ivanova, N. (2014) The Scented Tee. Available at: (Accessed: 22 May 2015).

Workshop materials for subjective colour-scent associations
Participant sensory experience of synthetic fragrance
Participant ubjective scent-colour associations
Participant subjective scent-colour associations
T-shirt design by workshop participants for CASHMERANTM
T-shirt designs by workshop participants based on the synthetic ingredient CASHMERAN

For all T-shirt designs and a more detailed description of the project, visit