Tealeaves Folio



Forming Meaning Through Our Most Personal Sense

Humans can distinguish at least one trillion distinct smells, yet many people find it difficult to precisely describe them. Due to this, the world of aroma has traditionally borrowed its language from the other senses.


Understanding that inclusivity is in the nature of tea, how can we use the principles of Inclusive Design to ultimately enhance the ability to explore the world, satisfy essential needs and experience joy and wonder through aroma?


Discover the TEALEAVES x Microsoft project on LanguageOfAroma.com


Ruth Starr is an educator currently working as the Coordinator of Accessibility, Inclusion, and Public Programs at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Cooper Hewitt is committed to broadening its audiences and ensuring the museum is welcoming to all. Ruth works on accessibility efforts across the museum, including integrated education, exhibition, and digital initiatives which serve to improve how the museum engages visitors with disabilities.


Through innovative exhibitions and experimental programming, the museum explores intersections across design and the human experience. Ruth is an ASL Interpreter and serves as communications chair of the Museum Access Consortium (MAC), an association that provides a network for cultural professionals to share best practices and participate in dialogue around accessibility within cultural spaces throughout the New York metro area.



“Body as home, but only if it is understood that place, and community, and culture burrow deep into our bones”

–Eli Clare, Exile and Pride



Deaf mythology tells the story of planet Eyeth. Here, visual-based communication is celebrated, doorbells ring through light, and hearing people are a minority. While Earth may present as an audio-oriented world in name, sight experiences are often privileged as the primary mode of meaning making. The story of Eyeth exists as a cultural celebration of Deafness and as an invitation to take this moment to consider the world around us and the barriers which were, at some point in history, designed. [1] Loudspeaker announcements in an airport, a phone call, a doorbell, a smoke detector—how might these tools for communicating essential information be designed with more users in mind?

Designers create built environments, products, and interactions that influence our engagement with the world around us—from the technology and clothing we use to the buildings, systems, and cities with which we engage. Historically, design often takes an ocularcentric approach, favoring a visual aesthetic experience, ignoring opportunities to connect through other modes. When design embraces our desires to engage through touch, sound, and smell, greater opportunities develop that activate inherent curiosity and support broader diversity. [2] By considering multisensory interactions, designers harness the potential to expand beyond limitations inherent to visual-based design. Inevitably, this can lead to more impactful and compelling innovation.



The Social Research Centre’s 2009 The Smell Report describes that the “perception of smell consists not only of the sensation of the odours themselves but of the experiences and emotions associated with these sensations.” [3] Our interpretations of sensory interaction is deeply personal. What does home smell like? What does happiness smell like? Each of us has experiences linking our senses with emotion and memory.

We also know that sensory abilities change over the course of a lifetime. Learn more about how we think about the evolving way we engage with our senses through Microsoft’s persona spectrum. [4]


Extract from Ruth Starr’s article: ‘Forming Meaning Through Our Most Personal Sense’


Read the Full Article



Discover the importance of aroma with our SXSW Panel


#OverACupOfTealeaves: At TEALEAVES, we believe that the best “condiment” to any cup of TEALEAVES is a story to tell and wisdom to share.


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