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FOOD DESIGN

What is Food Design?
Here is an outline of the complete Food Design discipline with all its sub-disciplines. 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the owner of this content is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Francesca Zampollo and francescazampollo.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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paper by Dr. Francesca Zampollo

first published in 2017

edited version August 2023

This paper is an edited version of the original one published in 2017. This new version adds five new sub-disciplines to the overall categorisation of the Food Design discipline.

 

Food Design is a vast discipline that in one sense is about 23-25 years old, since the moment when it seems the term Food Design was first coined, but in another sense this discipline is as old as human beings, because the first time we put a piece of meat on a fire we were applying innovation to food, so we were food design-ing. After that we have continued applying our creative abilities to food, and today we enjoy extremely refined dishes that result from hundreds of cooking techniques, we eat in space in zero gravity, we have functional food, we are able to preserve food’s properties for decades, etc. We have also applied innovation to everything that is outside of our plate but directly correlated to it: production, procurement, transportation, transformation, distribution, presentation, consumption, and disposal. Therefore, Food Design propositions are more than food, but are applied to any point in the food chain. These innovations would not be possible without available research on psychology, engineering, material production, sociology, sustainability, biology, chemistry, architecture, all of the Design disciplines, etc. Food Design is a discipline that does not stand on its own but is intimately intertwined with all other disciplines of human knowledge.

In this paper I will outline the Food Design discipline as I see it, with all its sub-disciplines. I will show how these Food Design sub-disciplines intersect and merge, and how other disciplines inform and influence Food Design. This paper will also highlight who food designers are and how they collaborate with each other.

 

 

 

Defining Food Design

 

There are as many definitions of Food Design as there are people trying to define it. As it should be. In my books Food Design Voices you can find hundreds of definitions of this discipline, from hundreds of people working in it. I’ve been in this field for almost 20 years and my own definition keeps changing. Food Design is a huge discipline! One certainty we have, is that Food Design is not “how we decorate food on a plate”… (still the biggest misconception about this discipline) or at least not only.

 

Firstly, Food Design is made of two words, food and Design. Noticing this seemingly obvious combination of words really does make things clearer to those approaching this discipline for the first time. If you ask me, Food Design is as much about food, as it is about Design. To me, Food Design is Design applied to anything related to food and the act of eating. How do we define food and Design?

 

Food is pretty self-explanatory, but we consider food as anything that nourishes the body. Therefore in this definition drinks are also welcome, as well as supplements, medical food, topical food, etc. Therefore, generally in this discipline we consider as food anything that goes through the digestive track, or food ingredients used topically. Human beings are not the only beings on this planet with a digestive track, so Food Design should now be exclusive to them. You are a food designer if you design dog food. And this is actually an area where so much needs to be done to improve the health of dogs, pets, and non domestic animals. But the conversation could expand further. Are fertilisers, or food for plants, to be considered as food? But also, are medicines taken orally to be considered as food? Are products that nourish our cells to be considered as food? How do we define “nourishment”? The edges of this conversation are still open, as they should be. Therefore the edges of this discipline remain open to never-ending debate and discovery, as it should be.

 

And now Design… There are as many definitions of Design as there are people trying to define it. Defining Design itself is an effort that has lasted for as long as awareness of the discipline itself has existed, and it’s much of the debate that fires Design theorists still today. Similarly to what is happening for Food Design.

 

I like to explain what Design is using a quote I really like by Wouter Stokkel: “It’s art if it can’t be explained. [...], It’s design if it doesn’t need an explanation". Art is personal; it is personal to the artist and to the viewer. Art is interpreted differently by each viewer. Personal interpretation is good, because art is there to trigger thoughts and emotions that are intimate, maybe private, definitely subjective. Design, on the other hand, should be universal. Design should be - in general, but there are exceptions - easily understandable and usable by anybody, or perfectly usable by the specific target chosen. Imagine if you had to interpret a phone, and dig deep into your feelings and memories to understand how to use it. Not ideal.

 

From my whimsical explanatory attitude, here’s another of my favourite definitions: “Art is like masturbation, it is selfish and introverted, and done for you and you alone. Design is like sex, there is someone else involved, their needs are just as important as your own, and if everything goes right both parties are happy in the end” by Colin Wright. I laugh every time I read this definition, but it highlights how Design is about giving something to others, improving others’ lives, allowing others to live a better, more functional, more fulfilling, aspect of their lives. And the other reason why I like this definition is because of how it implies the importance of the designer’s own needs and happiness: “their needs are just as important as your own”, and “both parties are happy in the end”, hinting at what I I call Spiritual Sustainability, a topic you can read about in my other writings.

 

Another definition of Design I want to propose to you is by John Heskett: “Design is the deliberate and reasoned shaping and making of our environment in ways that satisfy our needs and give meaning to our lives” (consider that the word “environment” here means more than the physical surroundings, but rather any possible stimulus human beings can interact with). Here we can appreciate the emphasis on Design being “deliberate and reasoned”, which, to me, is the essence of what Design is: you are designing every time you are creating through deliberate and reasoned choices. We can also appreciate how design is indeed about satisfying people’s needs, but contrary to what most people think, design is more than that, it is also about “giving meaning to our lives”, triggering values, emotions, opening to new perspectives and information, and enriching our awareness of the world and who we are.

 

Given any definition of Design, you can have a new definition of Food Design just by making the said definition specific to food. For example: “Food Design is the deliberate and reasoned shaping and making of our food environment in ways that satisfy our needs and give meaning to our lives". And there you have it, a perfectly good definition of Food Design.

 

One of my definitions of Food Design is:

Food Design is the conscious and deliberate creative process that brings innovation to living beings and the planet on anything related to food and the act of eating: from production, procurement, preservation, and transportation, to preparation, presentation, consumption, and disposal.

 

Another of my definitions of Food Design is:

Food Design influences the acquisition, circulation, use, manipulation, and disposal of materials, ingredients, and components of food products, for-food products, and all elements of the food system.

 

We should also remark on the fact that Design is not an outcome, but a process. We define a design process or a creative process as the entire sequence of activities - also called Design Methods - that happen when designing or innovating: from defining a brief, learning about the context of interest, generating ideas, prototyping them, finalising concepts, etc, and everything in between. Specifically, Design is a conscious process of creation, one made of deliberate and reasoned choices throughout. Additionally, we can say that we talk about Design when the outcome brings some type of innovation. Again, what is innovation? Let’s say that innovation implies significant improvements for any type to life, the life of people, the life of any living thing, and the life of the planet itself.

 

 

Am I a food designer?

 

A conversation around innovation is particularly important for all those people who feel intimidated by the term Food Design, for those people who are not sure whether they are food designers or not, and for those who question whether they belong to this discipline. This whole paper will hopefully help clarify that, but to start, let me mention this for you: in my opinion, you are a food designer any time you innovate with intention. In other words, you are a food designer any time you use your creativity in a deliberate and reasoned way to bring about propositions that satisfy people’s needs and give meaning to our lives. But here is the key aspect: you are a food designer regardless of the magnitude or visibility or instagramability of your propositions! If you are an engineer innovating on packaging materials, and you don’t design the packaging itself nor the graphic, but only the material, you - to me - are a food designer. If you are a food technologist innovating on food ingredients that someone else will use in a new food product, you - to me - are a food designer. If you are a farmer innovating on the production process of your tomatoes, you - to me - are a food designer. If you are a student who had a brilliant idea about how to reduce food waste after disposal, you - to me - are a food designer. Since Food Design, as we have seen and as I will explain further in the rest of the paper, is a very inclusive discipline by nature, we should also be inclusive in identifying who food designers are.

 

There is still a difference between food designers and those to just “have a brilliant idea”, and that is because of what Design itself is. I will summarise this here. Creativity happens in two ways. First, there is the “aha!” moment, where brilliant ideas just come up to our awareness, usually under the shower, washing the dishes, walking the doc, etc. (that’s a peculiarity of “aha!” moments… they come when you least expect them!) Second, there is a deliberate and reasoned creative process, aka the spinal cord of Design. Generically (but there are exceptions) we can say that these processes can be conscious or not, which is, generically but not comprehensively, what distinguishes designers in the Design discipline and designers or innovators in most other disciplines. Designers know of the existence of creative processes, most of them have one they use, and most of them consciously use them. Other innovators have “embedded” creative processes they are not aware of having or they are partially aware of them, and intuitively or automatically use them whenever they operate. These can be for example engineers, chefs, or food technologists, and indeed a good portion of Designers too. If you are not, or if you are only partially aware of having and using a creative process, are you are designer? To me you are, because the creative process is there. So, when you ask yourself “am I a food designer?” ask yourself instead “do I have a creative process and am I aware of it?”. If the answer is yes, congratulations, and welcome. If the answer is no, then find a process! There are plenty of processes out there available to you, one of which is my own Food Design Thinking. Congratulations, and welcome!

 

We understand now what food and Design are, we have a few definitions of this discipline, and we have a sense of who food designers are. Let’s dive into the vast world of Food Design. Here is my proposition and visualisation of what Food Design is.

 

 

The Food Design sub-disciplines

 

Let’s start with Food Product Design. In this Food Design sub-discipline, where food is the material designers design with, we find edible products that are designed for mass production, like potato chips, pasta, packaged ice-cream, chocolate bars, snacks, etc. Food product designers usually have a background in product design or industrial design: they understand how the food material is moulded, printed, extruded, and so on. They might also be familiar with packaging design, or they might collaborate with packaging designers. Food Product Designers usually don’t have a vast expertise in food science and food technology (maybe a little bit, maybe none) so they are likely to collaborate with food scientists when it comes to designing the recipe of the food material they are using.

 

For example, years ago, I designed a chocolate snack. My background was in industrial design, so I took care of the shape of the snack itself and how it was manufactured, but I collaborated with a food scientist who created the recipe of the chocolate filling and coating, and with a packaging designer who was doing all the packaging and graphics for that particular chocolate company.

 

Then there is Design For Food. In this Food Design sub-discipline, we design not only products like pots and pans, plates, cutlery, and containers, but also cooking appliances like blenders, rice cookers, toasters, ovens, fridges, and 3D food printers, and finally packaging. In short, Design For Food is about all those products designed to prepare,  cook, serve, contain and transport food.

Here, food designers are again someone with a background in product or industrial design, often in packaging design, in which case they might or might not have the expertise in graphic design as well, and if they don’t, they are likely to collaborate with graphic designers. In general, Design For Food designers are likely to collaborate, at some point in the design process, with someone with extensive food knowledge. For example, if they are designing a pot, they will have long and extensive conversations with chefs, to learn from them what they need and like in a pot. If they are designing the packaging for a particular cheese for a cheese company, they will definitely be talking to the cheese maker, and maybe a food scientist who knows what the cheese needs to stay fresh. for example. Also, they need to know how the cheese changes after two days or a week, and whatever other cheese-knowledge necessary to maintain it, transport it, present it, and of course, eat it.

 

Notice that there is an intersection between Food Product Design and Design For Food. This is because food products always come in a packaging, which is a result of Design for Food. So these two sub-disciplines are definitely linked, and food product designers and Design For Food designers, will often collaborate.

 

Then there is Design With Food. In this sub-discipline, we find all the products that come from the chefs who push the boundaries of culinary arts, or food scientists who innovate with the food material itself. The two sub-areas we can identify are Gastronomy and Food Technology / Food Science. In the case of Design With Food done by chefs, products are edible but not for mass production, they are instead designed to be prepared and eaten soon after. In the case of Design With Food done by food scientists often they’re designing the food materials for food products for mass production, but they are not designing the overall food product, that’s why they belong to a category of their own.

 

Let’s say that in Design With Food, there is no transportation involved between the place where the food is made and the place where it is consumed, but there could be a customer buying this food directly where it is made and taking it home to eat it. Here we’re talking about dishes from the restaurant scenario for example, sandwiches from cafes, cakes from a wedding cake shop, and bread and cronuts from bakeries. In this case, food designers are definitely someone with extensive food knowledge, usually someone with a culinary arts or food science background, or even somebody who studied only baking for example. Food designers here are people who know how to make food, and make it themselves.

 

There are often collaborations between chefs and food scientists for specific recipes. In the restaurant or cafe scenario, food designers should collaborate and even co-design with the restaurant manager, service staff, and anyone involved in the running of the service, not just the other chefs who are making the food.

 

There is one consideration I want to make here. What I am implying here is that chefs are indeed food designers. But what I want to specify is that not all chefs are food designers. Let’s remember that Food Design is a Design discipline. As we have seen, there are many ways to define Design, but it is generally agreed that Design leads to some type of innovation. Therefore in my opinion, only those chefs who really push the boundaries in terms of cooking techniques, technologies, and the search for emotional responses from customers, are actually food designers, because these are the chefs who are innovators in their field, including those who do not refer to themselves as food designers.

 

Notice that there is an intersection between Design With Food and Design For Food (the dimension of the intersection is not indicative to the amount of collaboration and interdependence there actually is between these two sub-disciplines), and this is because food is always served on some type of vessel: usually a plate in the restaurant scenario, a cup in the cafe scenario, a simple paper bag at your local bakery, etc. Those dishes, cups, and bags are designed by Design For Food designers, which means that Design With Food designers, chefs, or bakers, should indeed collaborate with the designers who design the vessel in which their food is served or contained. This is because the vessel itself, its material, shape, texture, and ability to maintain moisture or temperature, will indeed influence the overall experience of eating that food.

 

There is also an intersection between Design With Food, and Food Product Design, because chefs and food scientists often work on the recipe of food products for mass production.

Agriculture and Farming includes innovation done in the first ring of the food chain, where food itself is produced. From seed banks, to techniques to reduce pesticides, to methodologies to thinking in systems, longevity, and environmental and social sustainability. Far from making an appearance on glossy magazine pages, those who design and innovate ethically here lay the foundations for all other food designers.

 

Then, Food Space Design. In this sub-discipline, we find the design of all food spaces, which include eating spaces as well as cooking spaces, whether commercial or private. This means that food space designers design, for example, the restaurant itself with everything that is inside: layout, furniture, lights, music, etc. We can also design the food/eating/cooking space of cafes, bakeries, food trucks, etc. Moreover, think about the cinema. The the projection rooms, the lobby, etc. are food spaces where the popcorns and drinks are prepared and served and eaten. Think about how almost all theatres have in fact a cup holder between seats: someone thought it would be a great idea to free people’s hands from having to hold their drink while simultaneously eating their popcorn. An every-day example of Food Space Design.

 

Food Space designers usually have a background in interior design or architecture, they understand spaces and design both the eating space as well as the cooking space, for commercial or domestic spaces. There is an intersection between Food Space Design and Design With Food, because all chefs, bakers, sandwich makers, etc. do need a cooking space, which should be designed to respond to their needs. For this reason, Food Space Designers should always collaborate with the chefs or bakers for which they are designing a kitchen layout, as well as with the restaurant and cafe owners or managers who know what the eating space should feel like for their customers.

 

Now let’s talk about Eating Design. This is about designing the entire eating situation, and by eating situation I mean any situation in which there is someone eating something. In my opinion, Eating Design is about designing one-off eating situations, which means that it is different from designing permanent services like restaurants and cafes, and it is really about designing those dinners or lunches that happen one time only. In a simplistic way, this is what most caterers do, they design an eating event that lasts a few hours to a few days: a wedding banquet, a business lunch, a baby shower buffet, a birthday party, etc.

 

The most interesting part of eating design is that eating designers have to - but really get to - design everything: from the food itself, the vessel, the elements of the space like layout, music, and lighting, the number and role of service staff, etc. This means that when it comes to designing for the eating experience, eating designers have absolute control over the vast majority of the aspects that influence it. Free from the constraints of a static space, we have seen how many eating designers have attached spoons or other vessels on the wall, and placed food on it. And for example, food can also be walking around us hanging from an umbrella carried around by the waiter, like the example from the NYC based catering company Pinch Food Design.

 

With this freedom of course also comes a lot of multidisciplinary work. We can see in fact that Eating Design intersects with Design With Food because the food itself is designed, it intersects with Design For Food because the food’s vessels are often bespoke designs, and it intersects with Food Space Design because the food space (and sometimes the temporary cooking space) is also often designed. This also means that eating designers usually collaborate with a lot of people, because they rarely have knowledge and skills in so many disciplines.

 

First of all, the eating designer often collaborates with one or more chefs in designing food that aligns with their vision for the event. Eating designers also often collaborate with product designers to design custom-made vessels that allow the food to be served in a specific way to help convey that same vision. Eating designers then are likely to collaborate with a food space designer, as to design the entire space or even just custom-made pieces of furniture. Similarly, they could consult with light designers and hire a musician, a band or a DJ, to play the music that is specific to the atmosphere they want to create. And finally eating designers have to at least instruct the service staff to move, talk and behave in a certain way; here their role could be as simple as standing on the corner with a tray, to full-on performances. Eating designers do not work alone.

 

Another Food Design sub-discipline is Food Service Design. Food Service Design is Service Design applied to food. Matt Hunter, chief Design Officer at the Design Council, describes services as “something that I use but that I do not own”, so you have an idea of all the services that exist and the different types of services. I use the electricity to switch on lights in my house, there is a service behind that, but I don’t own the electricity; I use taxis but I don’t own them; I buy coffee at a coffee shop, but I don’t own the coffee shop,  and so on. Services are made of things, places, spaces, systems of communication, people, organisations and interactions. Because services are permeated with human activity, between customers, between service stuff, and between customers and service staff just to mention a few, they are complex.

 

In the 20th century, design was generally about objects. Towards the end of the century designers realised that generating successful solutions required including in the process more and more unpredictable factors whose behaviours are impossible to completely predict: aka human beings. So, user-centred design exploded. Designers started realising that since we are ultimately designing for people, then we should put people in the picture, actually, at the centre of the picture. This also meant that designers had to get used to the idea of navigating into complexity. It is in this context that design started being less about the final object, and more about the interaction between people and that object. It was not about designing the cup of coffee anymore, it became more about designing the situation in which people buy and enjoy that cup of coffee, with its environment, human interactions, tangible factors, and outcome. This interaction is an activity that occurs over time, an activity with goals and results.

 

Ezio Manzini, probably one of the fathers of Service Design, calls this an action platform. Whenever we design something we’re designing an action platform: a system that makes a multiplicity of interactions possible. Within food, services are for example cafes and restaurants, hospital kitchens serving food in the patient’s room and in the canteen, food catering in airplanes, as well as hotdog carts, fruit and veggies shops, food trucks, etc.

 

When you think of designing a service, you have to remember that you’re designing the setting, the aesthetic cues, the structure of the events, and the overall eating situation; you’re also managing the presence of fellow customers and linking the backstage activities with the front stage experience.

 

As you can see, Food Service Design completely encircles Eating Design, because all possible outcomes of Eating Design are services; a catering business, or food event business, do in fact provide a service.

 

Food Service Design also intersects with Food Space Design, because often food services have a food space that needs to be designed: a food shop, a canteen, even a hospital food service has a cooking space and a unique eating space that need to be designed.

 

Food services do not always have a tangible space. For example, consider sharing economy apps like ‘Too Good To Go’, an app that allows you to buy from restaurants leftovers at a low price, food that would otherwise go to waste. This type of food services only have the virtual space of the app or website. This also means that food service designers might have to collaborate with web or app designers. Another reason why not all Food Space Design is included within Food Service Design, is because Food Space Design is also about designing the domestic cooking and eating spaces: kitchens and dining rooms for example.

 

Food Service Design intersects with Design With Food, because chefs, again those who design the food itself, often operate within a service: restaurants, cafes, food trucks, catering, hospital canteens, etc. At the same time, not all Design With Food is included in Food Service Design because I believe it is possible for innovation to also happen in domestic kitchens. I think there are out there, chefs or regular people who design incredible combinations of ingredients, flavors, and shapes, served in a certain way, on a certain vessel, as to trigger intense, positive emotions in people, and therefore creating long-lasting memories. Isn’t this innovation? Many of these people are aware of their creative process.

 

Food Service Design also intersects with Design For Food, because when it comes to services too, there’s plenty of vessels needed to prepare and serve food. Again, not all Design For Food is included in Food Service Design because Design For Food is also about designing domestic cooking and eating utensils.

 

Finally, Food Service Design then intersects with Food Product Design, because many food services, like supermarkets, convenience stores, and cafes, sell packaged food products.

 

The next Food Design sib-discipline is Food Policy Design and Activism. These disciplines do find a place here because Design can be applied to both, and when the goal or subject of food policies or activism has to do with any aspect of the food chain, then we are within Food Design. If you operate against the way colonisation driven by the greed of a few transforms abundance into scarcity, the way anthropocentrism disrupts the earth’s ecological processes, the way the use of intellectual property is creating monopolies over our seeds, foods, communications, and our financial transactions, the way toxic and harmful products are nonetheless allowed and widely commercialised, the way greenwashing educates on false information, the way fresh and nutritious food is non accessible to low-income people, and if you operate for improving local economies and small producers, empowering marginalised communities, eliminating food waste, restoring biodiversity and food sovereignty and much more, you are a food activist. And if you operate to create and distribute policies on any of these subjects and more, you are a policy maker.

 

If you use a design process, or conscious creative process, to conceptualise or actualise food policies you are a food designer. If you use a design process to conceptualise or actualise activist efforts to intervene in social, political, economic or environmental reform, you are a food designer.

 

Designing for food policies and activism can be done within and for any of the Food Design sub-disciplines seen so far, or for/against topics, technologies, materials, resources, etc. most used in any of them.

 

One more Food Design sub-discipline is Critical / Speculative / Future Food Design. Critical design, sometimes also referred to as concept design, was made popular by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby. The term Critical Design was first used in Anthony Dunne's book, Hertzian Tales (1999) and later in Design Noir (2001), but we can attribute the roots of Critical Design to the Radical Design movements which started in 1970, and the conceptual design movement that started in 1990. Dunne and Raby’s say that “Critical Design uses speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givens about the role products play in everyday life. It is more of an attitude than anything else”. “What is it for? Mainly to make us think. But also raising awareness, exposing assumptions, provoking action, sparking debate, even entertaining in an intellectual sort of way, like literature or film” (source: dunneandraby.co.uk).

 

Critical Food Design, therefore, is Critical Design applied to food: it is the discipline that makes us think about food and eating issues. It raises awareness, exposes assumptions, provokes actions, and sparks debate on food-related issues, problems and future possible scenarios.

 

Speculative Design and Future Design generally follow the same goals, Future Design focusing more specifically on generating future scenarios and designing for them. Food has been the focus of these similar disciplines too, and therefore we can talk about Speculative Food Design and Future Food Design. I personally use the term Critical Food Design to group all these paths of creative expression that use Design to “make people think”.

 

Even though the terms Critical Food Design (and to follow Speculative Food Design, etc.) was not used before I coined in 2016, many designers had already been practicing Critical Food Design. Marti Guixe is one of the most well-known critical designers, and he has worked a lot with food. Israeli Designer Lee Ben David has designed cutlery to be used with just one specific type of food. The designer's aim was to highlight the unnatural disconnect she believes cutlery creates between diners and their meals. Finally, designer Marre Moerel has designed a collection of tableware meant to promote thought and discussion about how, what, where, and why we eat: “The pieces are molded and cast directly from animal organs, such as cow hearts and livers, pig intestines, sheep brains, bull testicles, etc. The shape and function of each object were derived from its original, natural form, without further manipulation or ‘design’” (source: marremoerel.com).

 

Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby state that “there are many people doing this who have never heard of the term critical design and who have their own way of describing what they do. Naming it Critical Design is simply a useful way of making this activity more visible and subject to discussion and debate” (source: dunneandraby.co.uk). Similarly, we can state that there are many people doing Critical Food Design who have their own way of describing what they do. Naming it Critical Food Design is simply a useful way of making this activity more visible and subject to discussion and debate.

 

I have put Critical Food Design outside all the other sub-disciplines, and therefore circling all of them, because Critical Food Design has the potential of being applied to any of these sub-disciplines. Critical Food Design has been applied to Design For Food, and it has also been applied to Eating Design, even if the designers did not explicitly say they were doing Critical Food Design. Probably one of my favourite examples is Salvage Supperclub, created by Josh Treuhaft, which is a series of dinners hosted in a dumpster, and designed to serve dishes using expired and aesthetically imperfect foods that would otherwise end up in… the dumpster. One of the first examples of Design applied to the topic of food waste that we have seen.

 

The following sub-discipline is Digital Media / Marketing / Communication, of course applied to the subject of food, or to any aspect of the food chain. Because of the complexity of food, the way it touches everybody’s life, the incredible amount of history it carries, the way it is entangled with psychological and sociological issues, its many experiential facets, the values, meanings, and memories it triggers in each one of us, etc., those who communicate food need to have a series of skills to help them embrace and navigate through such complexity. Communicating food is different from communicating any other topic, and that’s why this becomes a sub-discipline on its own, and therefore a specialisation of its own.

 

Next is Food System Design. Hopefully, you have heard about System Design; well, we can certainly talk about Food System Design too. What is a system? A system is basically the overview of every possible aspect that comes into play for anything you design. It’s really about thinking about where things come from, where they go, who moves them and how. In Food System Design, you’ll be answering questions like: What is the environment of this product or service? What is the feedback loop that the system uses to correct its actions? How does the system measure its achievements and failures? Who defines the system, environment, goals, and monitors its intersections? What resources does the system have for maintaining the relationships it desires? Are its resources sufficient to meet its purpose? Etc.

 

Most products and dishes, each tangible thing people eat, is part of an environment and of a service, and each service is part of a bigger system. Think about this: strawberry cream cheese (product) is sold at the supermarket (food service). Supermarkets are not only buildings filled with products, but these spaces are part of a network of people and other companies that enable the purchase and distribution of products. Even more broadly the company which produces the strawberry cream cheese has its own network of people and companies for the purchase and distribution of the ingredients and packaging. At the other end of the spectrum, there are services that will allow you to dispose of the cream cheese packaging from your home when you’ve eaten it all. All of these components are part of the same system. It just depends on what level you want to design: micro (the cream cheese itself), macro (the entire cream cheese system), or anything in between.

 

And finally, there is one last Food Design sub-discipline that must be included: Sustainable Food Design, which is simply Sustainable Design, applied to Food. You can consider Sustainable Food Design a sub-discipline on its own, but to me, this should actually be an attitude more than a sub-discipline. An attitude that every designer, and food designer, should use when designing anything. Everything should be designed to be as sustainable as possible. Actually, in this day and age, we should only design products or services that are sustainable in terms of food waste, organisational changes, behavioural changes, materials, agriculture, supply chain, etc.

 

It is not possible for food designers today to not think about the environmental impact of the materials they choose. For example, the impact materials have in order to be made, and after they are disposed. It is not possible for food designers today to not think about the environmental impact of the production, distribution, preservation and disposal of foods. It is not possible for food designers today to not think about the environmental impact of industrial farming and industrial agriculture, in terms of water footprint, energy efficiency and transparency, respect, and equity within trade. Sustainable Food Design should simply be the sustainable approach that every food designer uses to make each and every design choice. For this reason, Sustainable Food Design is the outermost circle in this visualisation.

 

How can you use this Food Design categorisation? First of all, understanding what Food Design is, and really having the bigger picture of all its sub-disciplines, will help you figure out what type of food designer you want to be: given your background you can see where you fit as a food designer, but also, given the type of Food Design you want to do you can see what type of knowledge and skills you should acquire. In addition, I’d like you to think about this categorisation as a map; a map that shows you the context of your project and guides you to seek the best knowledge and collaboration you need.

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