Concept and Drawings

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Posted by Mica on June 5, 2019 in Concept & Research

Next generation of whisky tastings: How to enhance senses by extending the physical reality with digital design?

What problems will I address and solve with digital design?
As a whisky enthusiast I know of the struggle and the time it takes to be able to truly taste a whisky and inhale the full experience. Even after 14 years of experience I still struggle sometimes to recognise flavours and match them to the according taste.
The first thing you taste in a whisky is the strength of the alcohol and most whisky novices struggle to overcome this threatening and strong flavour to reach the true nature and complex aromas of a whisky.
With design, however, we are holding strong tools to enhance senses and emotions (see From Synesthesia to Digital Whisky Sensations). And yet, digital design empowers us even beyond passive experiences but enables us to create a full immersive and interactive environment.

Nonetheless, we have to keep in mind that these tools can be easily distracting and therefore divert the attention away from the whisky towards the digital experience. However, this is not the goal of this project. The goal is to create a marriage of reality and digitality enhancing sensations of the real world with accents created in the digital world.
With whisky itself we are already holding something rich in multisensory stimuli with its colour, smell, taste, texture and even sound. All very delicately balanced in a modest harmony patiently created by distillers in a minimum timespan of 3 years and one day. Overtoning or distracting from these sensations would not be only disrespectful towards the creators but a disgrace for whisky itself (Please notice that I am not referring to the mixing of the beverage in this statement – everyone should be allowed to drink a whisky just the way they prefer. I am solely talking about distracting from the overall experience of tasting and smelling the drink.).

So how is it possible to combine reality and digitality?
The fist think that comes into my mind mixing reality and digitality is Augmented Reality (AR). AR can be experienced either through a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet or through glasses such as the Hololens. Smartphones and tablets unfortunately are distracting by their own nature. Just the imagination of drinking a whisky, experiencing the taste while constantly holding a mobile phone in your hands is overwhelming let alone being able to concentrate on the taste at all (see Interactivity & Visualisation ). The Hololens 2, on the other hand, allows an immersive experience without the distraction of holding a device in your hands. However, the Hololens 2 will not be released in time to be able to use it in my project and the Hololens 1 is hardly accessible for me not to mention the smaller field of vision compared to its follow-up (see YouTube HoloLens actual Field of View).

A solution would be to use projection mapping or huge screens in this case. However there are several limitations including my scope of time. Both solutions demand additional implementation of sensors (see All About Sensors). Additional sensors will include the development of transmitters, translating the code into readable language for Unity which will take a lot of time from my actual design and research work. Additional I experienced it myself that the immersion of projections as well as huge screens lives from fast movement (see Mind Map & Dynamic Earth). The downside of this effect is that it also pulls the viewers attention towards the screen and away from the whisky. As a counterexample I would have been able to create animations emitting from the whisky glass itself using AR and therefore keeping the viewers focus on the whisky.

Reflecting all this I have to questioning whether ruling out VR as an option isn’t a mistake. HTC Vive is offering a tracker which transfers any object it is attached to into the VR world and therefore eliminating my obstacles regarding sensor implementation.
This option, however, requires a rethinking of the project itself. I have to take into consideration that a solution might be not to extend reality with digitality but the other way around and creating therefore a first prototype for what could be possible using AR.
Combining VR with projection mapping would additionally create the illusion of experiencing a real world and ease the transfer from entering the booth to putting on the VR glasses. This can be extended be recreating the real environment in the VR world (this illusion was already used in the immersive experience ‘Somnai’ by Dotdotdot London). By recreating the whisky glass in the VR world the only thing that will be replaced is the vision of the whisky while the taste, smell, sound and texture are still conserved in the digital world which basically still creates a marriage of reality and digitality maintaining the whisky as the centre of attention.

An additional important issue is the interactivity of the experience permitting to create enhancing visualisations at the right moment (e.g. glass is swirled . As mentioned before this can be implemented using the HTC Vive Tracker. Enabling a recreation of the movement of the glass conveys the impression of reality in VR.

Another thing to consider is the glass itself. There are several risks and problem using a real glass with a VR device. Most of these issues can be solved with a conical flask. Firstly, it detaches the participant from whisky which allows a more open minded approach to the drink. Secondly, it will be less likely to spill the whisky in this glass and lastly, it will be easier to drink from this type of glass while wearing a VR headset. Furthermore this shape makes an attachment to the tracker easier.

But how is it possible to achieve an enhancement of senses?
Not only syntesthetes have the ability to be stimulated by co-dependent senses but we all are capable to experience the effects of cohesive senses (see From Synesthesia to Digital Whisky Sensations).

Earlier research regarding the connection of colour and taste resulted the following list of enhancers of taste:

  • sweet: pink
  • sour: yellow/green
  • bitter: black/brown/violet
  • salty: white/blue/grey
  • umamy: (violet)

Regarding acoustic enhancers the following informations can be used as a guideline:

  • sweet taste can be related to high pitched bells
  • too loud noise surprises sweet and salt flavour perception
  • deliberately distracting music can alter the ability to discriminate the alcoholic strength of a drink
  • descriptive attributes can be used to alter taste with music: powerful music results in experiencing a drink more powerful and heavy, as well as zingy music emphases a more zingy and refreshing taste (Band Nouvelle Vague).
  • background music can result in perceiving a drink sweeter than without music. (1)

As mentioned in an earlier blog (see Speyside Whisky Festival) I will use the Glenfiddich Project XX for this tasting experience due to its complexity in taste while still being approachable for whisky novices.
To combine this taste with matching colours I will need to complete an experimental deconstruction tasting.
It is to note that people have different experiences in taste and smell and therefore often are not able to relate to the same vocabulary when describing a taste or smell. Due to this circumstances the taste and smell of the whisky will be mainly matched with abstracted shapes and colours to enable participants experience a broad flavour and nosing journey without dictating the palette.

How to gain academic value?
It is important to set this project apart from a marketing gag. Academic value can be achieved through thorough research and critical thinking. Research has been already performed for this project in great extend. Nonetheless, I have to be able to compare my results critically by creating intentional differing results.
This can be achieved with three stages per participant:
1. tasting the whisky without enhancers
2. tasting the whisky with the intended enhancers
3. tasting the whisky with intentionally twisted enhancers.

Latest design concept for implementation including the cognical flask with a VR tracker attached to it.

Next to do: Glenfiddich Project XX deconstruction tasting.

Illustrations and Ideas

Alongside my research I created several illustration inspired by events, tastings, texts, locations or people:

Mica Noise: Scottish Wildflower – Gorse
Mica Noise: Bottle Stripping
Mica Noise: How to Visualise Whisky Smell
Mica Noise: How to Visualise Smell Development
Mica Noise: Whiskybells (bluebells)
Mica Noise: Oak Leaf
Mica Noise: Whisky Glass Abstraction
Mica Noise: From Grain to Glass
Mica Noise: How does sweet look like? (popping)
Mica Noise: Smell Perception (How does a whisky nosing palette look like)
Mica Noise: How would the digital VR experience look like?
Mica Noise: Changed Perspective
Mica Noise: Barley-Fly
Mica Noise: Humming-Barley-Bird
Mica Noise: Cooprage from Inside


(1) Velasco, C., Jones, R., King, S. et al. Flavour (2013) 2: 23.