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Janet Bewell
Janet Bewell

Akendi Alumnus

The Importance of User Expectations in Experience Design

In personality psychology, we talk about traits and states. Traits are said to be stable characteristics across situations, like being introverted, anxious, or compulsive, whereas states are temporary behaviours or emotions depending on the circumstance, like being nervous the first week at a new job, or joyous when your country wins the World Cup. So, an introvert can be an extrovert in some situations (or at least a lot less introverted), as in a crowd of similarly shy people. Is one’s personality consistent across all contexts? Well, that depends on whether you subscribe to the Traits theorists or the Situational theorists.   This will make more sense later.

Fragrance Lab

As I think it is important to be cognizant of what can be contributed to states and traits when I learned that there was an interactive fragrance lab, designed by Campaign and the Future Laboratory at Selfridges, that claimed to be able to identify your unique scent based on your personality I was intrigued.   What does obnoxious smell like, I wondered, laughing. I must go!

So I make an appointment and show up to the lab where everything and everyone (surprise, surprise) is dressed in white. I am told that before I begin I have to answer a few questions using a tablet provided. I am trying to keep an open mind when I am asked to choose one of three images and not assume I know what they are assuming of my “scent personality”: a picture of billowing mesh drapes blowing in the wind versus a steamy shower that alludes that you are not showering alone. Fresh linen scents versus a deep musk? I see pictures of art, and am again trying not to assume they are asking if I like modern scents or more classical notes…but I am. However, some pictures were not as immediately obvious and I had much more fun making my choice.

After the questionnaire, I am asked to put on a headset where I am instructed by a slow, calm voice to walk up the steps and enter the fragrance experience. It had all the ingredients of a great sensory experience. Having you slow down. Taking in the environment. Being mindful of the experience. The smells. The textures. Each room was unique and offered something new. There was even an Alice in Wonderland themed chest of drawers with the words “choose me” written on each drawer.   I was asked to open up two drawers…but of course I needed to smell them all. Was that being monitored? Does that tell you more about my personality, I wondered?

Akendi user expectations

In the last room I was greeted by a Fragrance Lab Associate and told that he had calculated 3 scents that he thought suited my “personality”. The room was filled with dry ice, was all white, and contained a variety of exceptional vessels to hold the various scents. I was very excited. I smelled the 3 scents, the last including a mixture of copper wire, and was impressed. “Yes, I do like these scents…but…can I quickly smell the others?” Hmmm…we are seeing a trend in my personality already. I ran quickly around smelly strong floral and candy notes and was happy with his initial recommendation.

So…now it is time to experience my scent. Drum roll….

I am handed a card that contains a description of my personality. Quite flattering and not all true but kind of like a horoscope in which you can see elements of yourself but many things are wrong. And being me, I have to tell him so. Regardless, it is time to smell my “personality”. I take a deep breath in and smell…fresh blackberries??? Huh? Where are my metallic undertones? My layering of unique and daring upper notes? “Ummm…I really don’t like this and would never wear this,” I say. “Perhaps this IS you and you don’t know it, yet,” I am told. Clever. But I do know myself enough to know this isn’t me. So I am given another card and end up trying another 2 scents to no avail. Apparently they only have 12 scents to choose from and “I” am not one of them. Perhaps I should feel super unique but the build up left me so disappointed. I left empty handed.

I learned that no part of the interactive experience had any merit on the final fragrance selection. It all had to do with initial questionnaire before you enter the installation - which you can now try online, ironically. So, instead of feeling that my actions were part of the experience, it was a bunch of smoke and mirrors. As an experiential designer, I want the user to be an active participant in the creation, not simply a passive observer that is essentially enjoying an amusement park ride. Observing user behaviour is such a valuable way to understand user needs that they might not be able to articulate or express through a questionnaire.

It is not to say that we cannot “s(c)en(t)se” a personality but if you think in terms of personality states and how context influences personality, I was led through an experience, introduced to new smells, which left me excited for something daring and unique. I wanted to ‘be’ something new and different and I was given the ‘safe bet’ - worse than being average.

Perhaps the fragrance lab would have been more successful arguing more as situational theorists in terms of states than traits (and took note of each user’s behaviour throughout the lab). Try new scents for different experiences and contexts and see how that alters your personality, rather than a fragrance dictating that you are only one ‘note’.

Janet Bewell
Janet Bewell

Akendi Alumnus

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I agree completely – there’s nothing worse than having to go through the hoops of an experience simply to be told you are “x” – which might be an entertaining experience with loads of interaction, but leaves room to feel snubbed by your results…rendering the experience a bitter one, ultimately. No one wants to be CLASSIFIED, then told they don’t know themselves enough to recognise how accurate the results are (although I commend them on at least having an answer …if I could extract the patronising language… Which probably tells you more about MY personality.)

I really like your take on how different contexts and experiences could alter the individual’s mood.. Seems like an experience that more would be excited to share, really, rather than finding out “I got blackberries!”

Agreed – I went to the see it at Selfridges and was rather taken aback that the way you were matched to a scent was only based on your test results you do on an Ipad – rather than the experiential journey that was so highly hyped up in papers. Setting the right expectations for user experience is a must, otherwise we feel tricked. Not a good experience. 🙁

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