What is Spice in Digital World? – A Design in the Life

There are a couple proverbs about spices around the world.

  • “Japanese pepper is spicy even with small grains” (Japan)
    In English, similar proverbs would be “The best things come in small packages” or “Small head but great wit”. It means you shouldn’t be underestimated for your talents even if you’re small
  • “Swallowing up peppercorns” (Japan)
    Not understanding the true nature by just looking at the surface.
  • “The spiciness of the pepper is sensed by chewing its grains” (Sri Lanka)
    In English, similar proverbs would be “Try a horse by riding him, and judge a man by living with him”.
    The metaphor of understanding something only after trying it
  • “Going to the place where pepper grows” (Germany)
    Meaning “Get out of my sight”

Even in English, the word “spicy” has other meanings of “exciting”, “indecent”, “shocking”. “sharp”, and “fragrant” and is available for various expressions.

Getting Design Hints from Spices

When deeply thinking about design, observing and researching other matters, businesses, and events are often thought to be helpful. For example, getting hints from the natural ecosystems or the forms of plants and animals, and being inspired by new layouts from beautiful food presentations, etc.

Since I was listening to a song called “Spice Road” from an generated playlist by a music streaming service, I would like to think about spices; not just normal spices, but what spices mean for digital products.

From the B.C era, spices were highly treasured as a way to eat meat deliciously and a way to protect food from decay, and acted as a main trading asset all over the world. The trade route to carry spices from the East to Europe was called the “Spice Road”.

Spices have other elements than “spiciness”. Spices add smell, taste (strong, sweet, and bitter), colors, feeling on the tongue, and texture, while they have an opposite feature like removing the smell. Also, their feature can be changed by temperature and time.

There are various timings to use spices properly and various ways to use them. Spices are used for precooking, cooking, and finishing, and are sometimes used additionally after served. Spices can come in different forms like whole, cut, coarse ground, fine ground, and powder to use for cooking directly. On the other hand, some spices are heated and roasted for getting out the fragrance within the material.

There are also all-purpose spice that have multiple spices combined.

Japanese Seven-flavor chili pepper
Red chili pepper, Roasted orange peel, Japanese pepper, Sesame seed, Poppy seed, Hemp seed, Green perilla, Ground ginger, Seaweed

Garam masala
Onion, Oregano, Garlic, Cumin, Clove, Coriander, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Fennel, Ginger, Pepper

It is clear that the fragrance and spiciness differ depending on blending quantity.

What are the spices for digital products?

So, what kind of ideas from spices can be applied for digital products and digital devices? Let’s replace cooking with digital design.

  • Timing to add spices
    Thinking about elements to bring in before and after the development
  • Blend and quantity of spices
    Being creative about combination of colors, animation and gimmicks
  • Taste and fragrance suppressed by spices
    Hiding excess elements to not make the user feel negative, like waiting time
  • Taste and fragrance added by spices
    Making things stand out and changing colors or sizes when needed
  • Texture through spices
    Making things tangible and designing the feeling and texture through the touch / mouse interface 
  • Protecting from something with spices
    Preventing errors and removing misleading elements
  • Medical effects of spices
    Thinking about permanent recognition and habits that the users will have
  • All-purpose spice
    Making patterns and style guides for convenience
  • Recipe with spices
    Making complicated tastes and procedures understandable and reproducible
Red peppers of each environmental standard “🌶” U+1F336 emoji *from Unicode-table

Nowadays, various spices are available at low prices, but saffron made from pollen which requires 160,000 flowers to be hand-picked for 1 kg of spice is still said to be the world’s most expensive spice. Yellow rice eaten in curry shops is usually colored with less expensive turmeric instead of saffron. Saffron on the market is usually sold in very small quantities; 0.3 g or 1 g, for several thousand yen. Cleopatra, Queen of Ancient Egypt, is said to have taken a saffron-scented milk bath.

There are various spices such as precious spices like saffron, spices for eating meat deliciously, and spices for keeping it as delicious as possible for a long time. However, can we ever have “saffron” in our digital products? Wouldn’t it be nice if our digital products and experience had a little distinct spiciness?


In “A Design In The Life” series, we will provide hints on improving the resolution of the design experience from the perspectives of both design in daily life and design in digital space. If you have a topic you would like us to cover, please let us know.

Written By

Yukio Andoh

Yukio is an UX Designer, UX Writer, Design Sprint Master. He has worked on a wide range of projects from web design, information appliances, smartphone applications, VR systems, giant stereoscopic dome theaters, digital signage, and media art. He loves movies and science fiction novels, and is buried in books in his everyday life.

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