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Thierry LageatThierry Lageat is Director at EUROSYN, a Sensory and Consumer Tests Agency located in the Paris area. He has set up many innovative sensory applications in cosmetics, the automotive, food and energy industry. Thierry has participated in the writing of reference books and published a number of international articles. He is also the initiator of the “HOO-HA Sensorimix Festival”, a seminar totally turned to multisensory and product experience. The Festival is based on the presentation of a large range of methods designed to specify the perceived quality of products in a better way. As I will be speaking at two of the HOO-HA seminars, I had to call up Thierry, get to know him and find out more about all this.

Hi Thierry, thanks for taking time for this.

Sure Marco! No problem at all.

The clunk of shutting doors, the crunchiness of cereals, the new car smell, the soft touch of a toothbrush,… Eurosyn is always seeking to improve the specifications of the “sensory properties” of products to meet real consumer expectations. Why are industrials so interested in sensory analysis?

The choice of a product is a more and more emotional and sensory experience. The consumers want pleasant products to look at, to hear, to touch, to smell and to taste. As the product is intended to please our senses, why not use sensory analysis to design and test it? This method allows a better understanding of the mechanisms of perception and to take into account the consumers’ feelings in product design. Initiated by the food industry for taste and smell, the approach has been applied to all other senses for the past fifteen years. For years, Eurosyn has concentrated on and developed numerous innovative sensory tools dedicated to new applications like: textile, eyeglasses, stationary, heating systems, telephony, sport equipment… Playing on sensations and feelings provides a means to explore new angles in a very common product world.

Which issues do you work on?

The overall liking of a product is very much conditioned by each and every detail. It is only natural that companies should take a close interest in them. Sensory analysis plays a key role in the understanding of perceptions. It helps manufacturers to design products fulfilling their customers’ sensory expectations. Companies’ requirements are becoming more and more accurate: How to measure the shock absorption of sneakers? How to obtain a clear reassuring sound on the closing of packaging? How to improve the glide of a pen or the touch of a mobile phone?

The research even looks into a dynamic approach for the car industry: people are driven round circuits and are asked to explain how the road feels, on speed, acceleration or road holing.

Certain cases involve working on the connections between senses: How do the smell and the softness of clean linen interact in the perception of a washing powder? How does the color of the walls impact the thermal comfort of an electric heater?

What are the foundations of sensory approach?

Customers do not always clearly express the reasons for their preferences. Their opinions are often not clear enough to build precise specifications. In addition, perception changes from one person to the next depending on their history and culture. Sensory analysis is used to translate and evaluate the consumers’ judgments. The method calls for trained panels, who can forget their own subjective values of assessment. They are specifically trained to qualify and quantify their impressions in an objective way. Yoghurts, skincare, shampoos, shavers or cars are felt, smelt, tasted and looked at by these professional panelists. The product features are dissected through their expertise. It is a tough job which requires a lot of practical experience. The Food industry has used these kinds of methods for many years, and their efficiency has no longer to be proved. The panelists are real sensory experts at the heart of the method. They first agree on specific and objective sensory vocabulary to describe the touch, the sound, the smell… of a product range: for instance, a lipstick will be defined by its consistency, glide or shine and not by its luxurious value which corresponds to a subjective interpretation. The experts draw up a real theory which allows a description of the products from a sensory point of view. Sustained training enables them to sharpen their perceptions and to perceive differences of intensity between products for every criterion. At the end, a final grading makes it possible to build out product sensory identity maps.

The method focuses on objective sensory measures, which do not take pleasure & emotions into account. How do you integrate these more subjective and essential dimensions?

Indeed, these two affective dimensions are included in our analysis. The products are also tested by targeted consumers in different countries. They give an overall liking score; information concerning the emotions experienced before and when using the product is also collected. Cross-cultural differences of perception can be revealed thanks to this complementary study. The “Sensetting” approach, developed by Eurosyn, makes it possible to link “objective” parameters (sensations measured by trained panels) and “subjective” data supplied by targeted consumers. As a result, the impact of sensorial characteristics on the emotions conjured up by a product can be specified.

Could you tell us more about a successful application of this approach?

Sure! A study was carried out on sporty scooters. The stake was to understand the notion of “the pleasure of driving” in order to provide sensory recommendations. Different scooters were tested on a private circuit. Several technical settings allowed a modification of the sensations felt when driving. A course had been specifically selected to place the drivers in different contexts of perception: acceleration, bends of varying sharpness, braking… Two studies were carried out simultaneously: an objective evaluation of the dynamic sensations with trained panelists and a hedonic test with targeted consumers. The latter assessed the level of comfort and seven relevant emotions selected thanks to preliminary testing. The results highlighted several groups of consumers with very different expectations in terms of pleasure of driving and emotions intended. This approach explained certain types of behavior in a very accurate way, linking sensory, hedonistic and emotional data. For instance, fear proves to be an essential criterion for a few consumers looking for strong emotions, and it maximizes pleasure. This emotion can also be related to sensory criteria assessed by the trained panel: adhesion, stability, bend inclination,… The study provided designers with directly exploitable information to optimize the scooter settings. All this gives us a deeper understanding of what “the pleasure of driving” feels like.
Certain other works which have been carried out in cosmetics and the food industry have also provided successful results.

Who uses these methods in companies?

Sensory analysis takes on its full meaning when working in collaboration with the different functions involved in the design process: Marketing, R&D, Design,… It allows the different company’s departments to share a common vocabulary and then proves to be a very useful tool to take decisions.

HOO-HA, Barcelona May 29thEUROSYN has also developed a new concept of multisensory seminars: the “Hoo-Ha Sensorimix Festival”. What is the philosophy of the event?

It is not EUROSYN’s first experience as far as multisensory seminars are concerned. For 7 years, at least 36 conferences have already been organized on this subject. More than 260 speakers have shared their experience and their know-how with a very wide public of industrials. The concept lay within the presentation of a large range of methods designed to specify the perceived quality of a product in a better way. Boosted by the success of the first edition in 2008, EUROSYN is exporting the venture to Spain with a seminar totally turned to multisensory and product experience! Barcelona will host this new session on May 29th 2009.

What does Hoo-Ha mean to you?

The HOO-HA Festival could be defined as “the mixture and the mess”. For one day, the festival is intended to be composed of amazing cocktails, mixing many different methods, sensations and innovative industrial applications. It is meant to awaken the senses! It also encourages meetings and exchanges between the enthusiasts for this field. It brings about long-term reflexion on new means of consumption and consumer expectations concerning perceived quality and comfort.

Just how original is this new sensory seminar compared to others?

The aim is to shake up the typical methods to adapt them to the new issues differing from the classic food or cosmetic field. The interest of many industrial sectors in this new research is constantly rising and the continuous search on the relevancy of the methods used is a decisive stake.

How would you describe your guest speakers?

They do not hesitate to free themselves from the chains of the methodological constraints to try out original ways to integrate sensory aspects in product design. Each one of them has developed an innovative and personal approach. In a certain way, the festival enables them to highlight these promising methods.

That is a nice compliment, for I will be one of the speakers myself 🙂 And I look forward to share some of SusaGroup‘s innovations.

Thanks for this conversation Thierry!

You’re welcome Marco. See you in Barcelona!

Extra information:

For a nice video capture of Eurosyn on French Television, please have a look: Eurosyn on French Television 1

If you like to register for the HOO-HA seminar in Barcelona, please visit Eurosyn’s website.

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