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Food Design for Business

By Francesca Zampollo Ph.D.

Paper presented at the conference Design For Business: Research Conference,

Melbourne 12-13 May 2015.


What is Food Design? And how can it help businesses? This paper first proposes a brief overview of possible definitions of Food Design, and then proposes a categorization of its sub-disciplines that highlight the different background disciplines that can be used to approach Food Design. After identifying what is Eating Design in particular, this paper gives a proposition for how Eating Design can help businesses. I argue here that Eating Design can help businesses by generating solutions that trigger people’s emotions, through the consideration of all aspects of the eating situation. I present the literature that sustain the importance of designing for emotions, and then give an overview of different categorizations of the aspects that influence the eating experience concluding with the one I suggest food designers should use, the Five Aspects Meal Model. Finally I try and sustain my argument presenting three examples of eating situations designed considering all aspects influencing the eating experience, and therefore generating positive emotions in the customers.


Food Design, Eating Design, Five Aspects Meal Model.


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What is Food Design?

Food Design is a practice that has always existed but that has started developing with this name about 20 years ago. Food Design has existed for as long as Design has existed, even before the name Design was given to the process of generating innovative solutions. Food Design can be considered as Design applied to food and eating. All that Design is, remains embedded into Food Design: in this sense, Food Design is a discipline parallel to Product Design, Graphic Design, Fashion Design, Interior Design, etc., where Design instead of being applied to products, images, clothes or interiors, is applied to everything related to food and eating. In a way, any good definition of Design can be transformed into a definition of Food Design, just adding the words food or eating. For example, Muratovski defines Design as follows:

Design is about solving everyday problems by overcoming limitations, challenges and constraints in a creative way. (Muratovski, 2014: 13)

Starting from this definition, we can give the following definition: Food Design is about solving everyday problems related to food and eating by overcoming limitations, challenges and constraints in a creative way. It works very well.

A definition of Food Design is given by Sonja Stummerer and Martin Hablesreiter:

For us the notion of ‘food design’ refers to the development and sharing of food. In our understanding this includes all the processes and decisions related to successfully designing food in a reproducible and recurring way. (Stummerer & Hablesreiter, 2010, p. 13)

This definition thought, because of its reference to designing food in a reproducible and recurring way, could be reductive. This definition relates to food products only, and to food products for mass production. Food Design is more than this. The Food Design® competition organized by Studio ONE Off, has been supporting the growing and expanding trends of Food Design since 2001, the year of the competition’s first edition. In each edition the competition received more than food products designed for mass production; submissions also include projects on food packaging, restaurant concepts, food installation, and food jewellery. The variety of projects submitted to this competition year after year, suggests that designers consider Food Design as being more than “designing food in a reproducible and recurring way” as suggested by Sonja Stammered and Martin Hablesreiter. Different designers with different backgrounds interpret the words Food Design in different ways. A quick search of the words ‘food design’ on any search engine produces a multitude of webpages on very different products and services: shapes of pasta, industrial ice cream, chocolate, bottles, cutlery, dishes created by chefs including those operating within the so called molecular gastronomy, but also chairs and tables and the entire eating space like restaurants and cafés.

Stefano Maffei and Barbara Parini in their book FoodMood (2010) present four sessions in which they divide the projects, product and services they present: foodpeople, foodexperience, foodproducts, and foodspecials. These four sessions the authors use to categorize the “alternative or simply innovative visions” (Maffei and Parini, 2010: 7) they propose in the book, can be seen as an additional effort to categorize the vast world of Food Design. What is particularly interesting, is the session foodpeople, in which chefs and their creations are mainly presented; the approach taken in this book is an example of the view that considers chefs as designers; as food designers in particular. In describing the reasons why the authors decided to focus on haute cuisine chefs, they explain that

[…] their function is to design on the bases of knowledge, skills, genealogies, memories and personal experiences of process of transformation that range from the specific to the systematic. (Maffei & Parini, 2010, p. 12)

Whereas Sonja Stummerer and Martin Hablesreiter described Food Design as food designed in a reproducible and recurring way, the Food Design® competition added a distinction between design with food and design for food, and Stefano Maffei and Barbara Parini include chef’s creations as examples of Food Design. These examples demonstrate that Food Design encompasses categories of products and services very different from one another.

As part of my involvement in the Food Design world, and as founder of the International Food Design Society, I have personally proposed a categorization of the Food Design sub-disciplines that create an overview of the background knowledge from which Food Design can be approached, and show how different products and services come from designers and professionals with different knowledge and sets of skills, i.e. a different background discipline. The six possible sub-disciplines of Food Design are: Design With Food, Design For Food, Food Space Design or Interior Design For Food, Food Product Design, Design About Food, and finally, Eating Design (Zampollo, 2009). This categorization does not aim at setting once and for all the different facets of Food Design, but is instead a first approach towards the understanding of the complexity of this discipline. The aim is to show how food designers may approach this discipline, depending on their own background knowledge. Nonetheless, this is open to debate and more importantly, further interpretation.

Design With Food is the design that melts, swells, blows, foams and reassembles food as a raw material, transforming it to create something that did not exist before in terms of flavour, consistency, temperature, colour and texture. Design With Food is about the manipulation of food itself, and considers only the food itself as the material to design with. The food designer in this case is usually a chef or a food scientist. An example of Design With Food is Èspesso by Ferran Adrià and Lavazza. Èspesso is a coffee lighter than a mousse but firmer than foam. Ferran Adrià played with the consistency of usual coffee to create a new way of drinking espresso. Another example by Ferran Adrià is the Fruit Caviar, a product that looks like caviar, but tastes like fruit, thanks to a technique called sferificacion designed by Adrià himself. This technique is attributed to Molecular Gastronomy, of which Ferran Adrià is the father. Design With Food produces experiences that reinvent the idea of food itself by twisting visual and taste expectations through surprising textures, temperature, colours and smells.

Design For Food is the design of all the products designed to cut, chop, mix, contain, store, cook and preserve food. The packaging, for example, is not only the container, but also the means to communicate the product, make it recognizable, and protect and transport the food product. One of the most successful examples of a product that is identified by its container is proposed by Coca Cola. The silhouette of the glass bottle is a successful symbol that has made Coca Cola recognizable since 1886. The Coca Cola bottle is an example of how Design has been applied to food, and drinks, for longer than the use of the two words Food Design. Another example to support this argument, again from the Design For Food sub-discipline, is the cooking pot, which has been adopted (designed?) 10.000 years ago. “[T]he evidence from skeletons suggests that no one survived into adulthood having lost all their teeth. Chewing was a necessary skill. If you couldn’t chew, you would starve. Pottery enabled our ancestors to make food of a drinkable consistency” (Wilson, 2012: xiv): one example of how influential Food Design – Design applied to food – has been in our history.

Food Space Design or Interior Design For Food is about the design of food spaces considering all the characteristics of the eating environment or food environments such as interiors, materials and colours, lighting, temperature and music. Interior Design For Food is the design of interiors of food spaces such as for examples kitchens, bakeries, patisseries, bars and restaurants. In this category, as in Design For Food, food is not the material to design with, but many of the consideration and knowledge necessary to design an eating space are about food: from food preparation, for an understanding of the better material to design a work top with, to the dynamics of the eating experience, in order to be able to design the correct light, temperature and colours for a specific eating environment.

Food Product Design is closer to the idea of the designer as inherently part of an industrial process. In Food Product Design the food is the material itself, as in Design With Food, but here edible products are usually designed for mass production. An example of Food Product Design are Pringles, a chemical-physical-morphological design where the chip has an ergonomic shape that perfectly lies on the tongue, releasing its flavour and enhancing the tasting experience. These chips are designed not only to create a strong flavour experience, but also to make it last as long as possible. Another very interesting example is the Cookie Cup from Lavazza, designed by Luis Sardi for the 1st Food Design® competition in 2001. Cookie Cup is a cup for espresso coffee made of pastry with an internal layer of icing sugar which works as an insulator, making the cup waterproof, and sweetening the coffee at the same time.

Design About Food is the design of objects inspired by food. In this sub-discipline food is not the material itself, instead, food is used to emphasize, reinterpret or inspire the product’s message. An example is a line of T-shirts packaging designed by Prompt:\Design, for which they won a Gold Pentawards 2010. Here food is not the material, the product is nor edible, it is not design for food, but still food is the inspiration.

And finally Eating Design is about the design of any eating situation where there are people interacting with food. This is a very broad definition that explains that restaurant-eating-situations, the ones that usually first come to mind, are only one option: eating situations can also be eating popcorn at the cinema, having a picnic in the park, eating a sandwich while walking to work, or any other situation which includes people and food, with no restriction on any other aspect like environment, companions and service (or absence of such). An example of eating situation is the last course presented to customers at Combal.Zero: a bag containing chocolate candies and a Campari Cyber Egg tied to a helium balloon. Davide Scabin, head chef at the restaurant Combal.Zero was the first chef to serve laughter at the dinner table. Even though it is in a restaurant context, this example is definitely more than a dish, and becomes an eating situation because it considers also aspects that are ‘outside the dish itself’: the helium balloon as a vehicle for laughter, fun and the freedom of behaving childishly. An eating situation which is not related to the restaurant environment and which also shows how eating situations can range, is designed by Marije Vogelzang who is probably the most well known eating designer. She defines herself as an eating designer, and not a food designer:

Because I’m not just focused on the aesthetics, I deliberately don’t call myself a Food Designer but an Eating Designer. The food itself is already perfectly designed by nature, so there’s hardly anything I have to add to it. (Vogelzang, 2008: 73)

Determined to find a way to make her daughter eat vegetables she organized a Veggie Bling Bling (Vogelzang, 2008: 60-61) party for her and her friends, asking them to make jewellery using only their teeth. Without realizing it, and having a lot of fun, her daughter ate carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, radish and much more.

This categorization of the Food Design sub-disciplines helps better understanding how big the Food Design world is, and how many different types of skills are involved in designing everything that is in and around food as well as the eating situation. This categorization also serves to visualize how many different types of businesses revolve around food, and therefore, how much Food Design can help improving. It is not my intention here to provide a conclusive definition of Food Design, rather to provide inputs for the reader to determine her own definition of this discipline. In the rest of the paper I will be focusing my argument towards food business that most align with the Eating Design sub-discipline, where Design looks at a location with a physical environment, some type of service and therefore interaction with between people, as well as food itself and its vessel (e.g. packaging or a dish).

Food Design for better business

How can Food Design help businesses? How can Food Design increase sales? How can Food Design help creating a better world? Possible answers to these questions imply a purpose and a strategy. The purpose underlines the intent of the end result, and the strategy gives the ‘how’ to actually do it. Here I will discuss my personal answer to this question: Food Design can help businesses by generating solutions that trigger people’s emotions (purpose), through the consideration of all aspects of the eating situation (strategy). I will consider these two parts separately, starting by discussing the purpose.

How can Food Design increase competitive advantage? In my opinion, not very differently from how Design can increase competitive advantage. As we discussed above, Food Design is after all Design, a process for problem solving. In my opinion products about food and eating are made successful by the same purpose that make any other design product successful: the ability to design for experiences and therefore trigger strong positive emotions.

Much of the Design literature now agrees that it is not enough to design products or services, but the goal should be designing experiences (Schmitt, 1999). Desmet and Hekkert (2007) argue that the product experience has to be considered in its three subcategories: the aesthetic experience, the experience of meaning and the emotional experience. The aesthetic experience considers a product capacity to delight one or more of our sensory modalities. The experience of meaning sees cognition coming into play: cognitive processes like interpretation, memory retrieval, and associations, allow us to recognize metaphors, assign expressive characteristics to product, and assess its significance. The emotional experience operates at the emotional level. This experience is based on the evaluation of the significance of a stimulus/product rather than the product itself, therefore, is the significance that causes the emotions (Desmet and Hekkert, 2007). Designers, and Food Designers, need to become aware of these three levels of experiences, as to be more mindful in the design of triggers for each of them.

It is also worth highlighting at this point that experiences are not physical phenomenon that can be predicted and shaped. Demir for example writes:

Designers have limited power to influence the particular activities of users; they cannot (and should not) dictate a particular experience, just as they cannot dictate a particular behaviour. (Demir, 2008: 140)

McCarthy and Wright (2004) in fact argue that it is not possible to design an experience, but it is possible to design for an experience, which means trying to design something that maximises the possibilities of evoking the intended experience. As for Food Design, we cannot design the eating experience, but we can design for the eating experience.

Designing for the experience implies the consideration of users’ values; designing for values is what can manipulate the experience of meanings and consequently the emotional experience. Boztepe (2007) identifies the four types of User Value, those values designers should design for: (1) Utility Value, which refers to the utilitarian consequences of the use of a product; (2) Social Significance Value, which refers to the social oriented benefits creating the ownership of an experience with a product; (3) Emotional Value, which refers to benefits like fun and pleasure gained by the interaction with a product; and (4) Spiritual Value, which refers to spiritual benefits enabled by the product such as good luck. Sheth et al. (1991) also describe five consumption values that influence consumer behaviour choice: functional value, social value, emotional value, epistemic value, and conditional value.

Designing for the experience also implies the design of solutions with characteristics that can elicit positive emotions. Jordan (1999) identifies the four main categories of pleasure sources in human-product interaction: i) the physio-pleasures are perceived through the senses; ii) the socio-pleasures are a consequence of social contact during product usage; iii) the psycho-pleasures are elicited by accomplishing a task using the product; iv) the ideo-pleasures are gained through the values in or attributed to the product. Emotions serve an adaptive function, because they help us defining our position in the environment; emotions in fact pull us or push us away from certain people, objects and ideas (Frijda, 1986).

On the basis of this particular model Desmet (2003) identifies five types of product emotions. Instrumental product emotions are elicited by those products that facilitate goal achievement; the concern type ‘goals’ refers to those states that we want to obtain (e.g. I want to be happy, I want to have lunch). Aesthetic product emotions are elicited by products that appeal to us thanks to perceivable characteristics (i.e. smell, taste, look, sound and how they feel). Social product emotions depend on our standards, on how we believe things should be and people should act. These emotions are elicited by the way we appraise product in terms of ‘legitimacy’. Surprise product emotions are not related to a specific concern type like the previous three; surprise emotions are elicited by products that are appraised as novel, sudden and unexpected. Interest product emotions are elicited by appraisal of challenge combined with promise, and all involve an aspect of stimulation. It is possible here to se a parallel between Desmet’s types of product emotions and Sheth et a. (1991) types of values. In particular there is a linear correlation between social value, deriving from the association to one or more social groups, and social product emotion. And also between epistemic value, “the capacity to arouse curiosity, provide novelty and/or satisfy a desire for knowledge” (Sheth et al., 1991: 162) and surprise product emotions. This connection seems to emphasise how certain types of values elicit certain type of emotions, and therefore how values generate emotions.

An example of products with added emotional aspects are many of those designed by the Apple Company; Steve Jobs is in fact considered an instrumental figure in this transformation, for his ability to create electronic consumer products that “capture people’s hearts and change their lives” (Scanlon, 2005: 56). On the same line, Hartmut Esslinger the founder of the company Frog Design, whose motto is “design follows emotion”, stated that “even if a design is elegant and functional, it will not have a place in our lives unless it can appeal at a deeper level, to our emotions” (Sweet, 1999: 9; cited in Demir, 2008). Finally, Franzak et al.’s model of the relationship between Design benefits, positive emotions, and brand engagement explains that

emotional responses driven by hedonic design benefits will generate higher brand engagement, compared to emotional responses driven by functional design benefits, which will led to low brand engagement; [and that] emotional responses driven by symbolic design benefits will lead to higher brand engagement than emotional responses driven by hedonic design benefits. (Franzak et al., 2014: 21)

This is to say that emotions that come from functional benefits are lower than those coming from aesthetic benefits, which are in turn lower than the emotions coming from social and expressive benefits: the products and services that generate for the user social interaction or self expression are those creating a higher brand engagement.

The Design world agrees on the benefits for businesses to focus the design process on users’ experiences by considering values and designing for emotions. Redstorm (2006) talks about how the shift from the object to the user’s experience as the focus of design, has prompted the interest in designing ‘beyond the object’. Designing beyond the object is the approach to take when aiming at designing products and services that people become emotionally attached to. This applies to all Design disciplines, including Food Design. But with regards to Eating Design in particular, that which involves the consideration of the entire eating situation with all its components, how do we achieve that? What is the strategy? How do we design the eating situation, and achieve the user’s emotional involvement?

My argument here is that to design successful solutions for the eating situation, one should consider all aspects that influence the eating experience. To design for emotions the food designer should consider all aspects of the eating situations, as to enhance the possibilities for a cohesive and holistic experience. When designing food, it seems automatic to concentrate on food, and only food. But experiencing food, like any other product, means experiencing not only what we eat, but also everything else around us in that situation. This ‘bigger picture’ is what food designers should take into account.

Food is possibly the most interesting and inspiring material to design with, because it is the only material that stimulates all five senses. Food, or any edible material, also stimulates the sense of taste, besides smell, touch, hearing and sight. At the same time, it is important to stimulate the senses with all the non-edible elements of the project and service. Haeckel et al. explain:

Managing customers' experiences requires awareness of all of their senses throughout the experience. Sight, motion, sound, smell, taste, and touch are direct pathways to customers' emotions. Connecting with customers in a sensory way is crucial to managing positive emotional elements of the experience. (Haeckel et al., 2003: 21)

Since a Food Design product or service almost always includes an edible material to be eaten or drank, the sense of taste is almost always stimulated. Nonetheless food designers should be aware of how stimuli other than food itself, can still influence the flavour of what we eat and our perception of how much we eat. For example, Woods et al. (2011) have found that eating with a loud background noise makes people rate their food as less salty and less sweet than those who ate in silence. Moreover, food appears much crunchier to people eating while surrounded by noise. The size of the container also influences how much we eat as well as our flavour perception: Wansink et al. (2005), in fact showed how people who were given fresh popcorn at the cinema, ate 45.3% more popcorn when it was served in large containers. Even more interestingly, when they were given stale 14 day old popcorn, people still ate 33.6% more popcorn when eating them from a large container than a medium-size container, demonstrating that 14 day old popcorn does not taste that bad if it is served in a large container. Again with regards to containers’ shape, other studies have shown how glasses’ shape influence the quantity of drink poured, and the perceived quantity poured: Wansink et al. (2003) in fact found that both children and adults pour and consume more juice when given a short, wide glass compared to those given a tall, slender glass, but they perceive the opposite to be true. Another example of external stimuli influencing the eating experience comes from descriptive restaurant menus: menus with geographic labels (e.g. Cajum and Italian), affective labels (e.g. “home-style” or “Grandma’s”), sensory labels (“tender” or “satin”), or a mix of these, increase sales of 27%, increase the evaluation on quality and value, increase the restaurant-related attitudes, and increase the customer’s intentions to return (Wansink et al., 2001). One final example that I want to give to iterate the importance for food designers to consider all aspects of the eating situation in their design, because everything influence people’s eating experience, relates to the duration of mealtimes. De Castro and Brewer (1992) consider the duration of mealtimes as the primary mechanism for social facilitation of eating, where the number of people one is eating with increases the amount of time spent for a meal.

Having established that any stimulus present in the eating situation does influence the eating experience, it is useful at this point to consider the complexity of the eating experience by looking at some examples of categorizations of the aspects that influence it, and finally proposing one categorization in particular that could prove a useful tool for food designers to use in their design process.

The most general categorization of the aspects influencing the eating experience is given by Gains (1994), who says that generally any form of food-related behaviour is the result of interactions between three aspects: the food itself, the consumer, and the context or situation within which this interaction takes place (see figure 1).

Figure 1: A schematic representation of the factors influencing food choice. Source: adapted from Gains (1994).

As Gains explains, these three factors have many sub-aspects that influence the eating experience, and that also interact with each other modifying the eating experience even further. For example, he explains, food creates a relationship with all the five senses through its nutritional composition as well as packaging, images and costs. Consumers are unique individuals with unique subjective characteristics (cultures, psychological and physiological statues, habits, memories and preferences). And finally the context (place, time and company) influences the consumer’s perception of food.

Another categorization is given by Macht, Meininger and Roth (2005), who used in-depth interview to determine the subjective and behavioural characteristics of hedonic eating experiences. The external and internal conditions are divided into stimulus conditions, organism variables and response elements (see Figure 2), each one including more stimuli.

Figure 2: Components of hedonic eating experiences. Source: adapted from Macht et al. (2005)

What this categorization highlights is that two out of the three conditions are behavioural or external, and only one is subjective or external. For the designer though, it is close to impossible to design a product and a solution considering the users’ attitude towards edonism, somato physic state, or subjective experiences for example. Another categorization from Schutz (1995) also includes aspects of the eating experience that are difficult for the designer to take into account in their design (see Figure 3): time perspectives, antecedent state, occasion, and social surrounding.

Figure 3: Situational influences on eating. Source: adapted from Schutz (1995).

These categorizations show how the eating experience is affected also by aspects over which food designers have little to no control. One categorization that incorporates only the aspects on which designers can focus, is the Five Aspects Meal Model (see Figure 4). This was proposed by Gustafsson et al. (2006) as a structure of a culinary art course at Örebro University. Since this model categorizes the aspects that should be included in a culinary arts curriculum, it is also a representation of the aspects that a food designer can, and should, consider in her project. These aspects are: room, meeting, product, atmosphere and management control system.

Figure 4: Five Aspect Meal Model. Source: adapted from (Gustafsson, 2004; Gustafsson et al., 2006).

The room, or ‘servicescapes’ as defined by Bitner (1992), is the environment where the meal is served. As Edwards & Gustafsson (2008b) explain, in the 19th century Carême had already pointed out the importance of a designed environment that suited the restaurant’s concept (Finkelstein, 1989), because the style of the meal needs to follow the concept of the restaurant (Bowen and Morris, 1995). Moreover, as we have briefly discussed above, sounds, lights, colours and textiles can all have a great impact on an eating experience (Edwards et al., 2003). The meeting aspect encompasses the meeting between customers and service staff as well as the meeting between customers (Edwards and Gustafsson, 2007). Service staff are the main contact between restaurant and customer, and their performance have a great impact on the customer’s enjoyment of the meal. A waiter’s arrogant, annoyed or bored attitude influences the eating event differently than a waiter’s helpful, polite and smiling attitude. The product aspect consists of food and beverage, as well as their combination (Edwards and Gustafsson, 2007). The product aspect includes all those considerations that have to do with the food itself, the edible component of the product or service. The literature presents many examples of how different attributes of food itself influence the taste and eating experience. For example experiments reveal that spheres appear smaller than flattened rectangular sheets, so that circular foods are more likely to be fully consumed than square ones (Krider et al., 2001) as people think they are eating less. Contrarily, amorphous food shapes are difficult to evaluate and estimate (Slawson and Eck, 1997) and for this reason are unlikely to be preferred to more regular shapes. Moreover, with regard to components’ position on the plate, it was shown that adults prefer three colours and three/four components on a plate, and that the main components is situated in the lower/right portion of the plate (Zampollo et al., 2012b), and that adults and children do have different visual preferences with regard to number of components and colours (Zampollo et al., 2012a). The atmosphere encompasses all the features contained in the eating environment. These are divided by Edwards and Gustafsson (2008a) into fixed features (such as chairs, lights and sounds) and movable features (such as customers and staff). As the authors say “each of these, both independently and together, help to create the room’s atmosphere, something that is relatively easy to appreciate, yet is difficult to define or quantify” (Edwards and Gustafsson, 2008b: 22). Finally management control system, being rooted in accounting, is based on score-keeping, attention-directing and problem solving (Newman et al., 1989), therefore “the behaviour is to be influenced by knowing the score, getting your priorities straight and knowing what to do” (Jonsson and Knutsson, 2009: 3). Jonsson & Knutsson (2009) also suggest that management is based on people control (people employed, their values and norms), action control (actions taken) and results control (results produced).

These five aspects are a useful approach to an Eating Design project. My proposition for successful food businesses, is for designers to consider the five aspects in their designs, as to create a cohesive and emotional experience where all senses are stimulated through many different layers of interaction. Below I will show three examples of eating situations where several aspects are designed and that as a consequence generated highly emotional eating experiences. In order to emphasise this I will analyse each example against the Five Aspects Meal Model and through Jordan’s (1999) categorization of pleasure sources.

Three examples

The first example that I want to present to sustain my argument is Heston Blumenthal’s 70’s Feast, an episode of the TV series Heston’s Feasts for Channel 4. In each episode of this series Heston prepares a dinner for six well-known VIP guests. For each episode he designs all aspects of the meal around a specific theme. In the 70’s Feast episode in particular chef Heston Blumenthal is trying to recreate the concept of the school meals he remembered having. The meeting and management control system aspects for the first dish, in particular the service, generates intrigue and laughter by really playing on the guests’ memories. Imagine seating at the table, chatting with the other guests, when suddenly you hear a bell ringing, just like the one you used to hear at school symbolizing lunch time. Amused and amazed you follow the instruction you are given, you take your tray and go in line with the other guests to receive your meal. Suddenly shutters open on the side of the room and the school chef starts serving the meal. The product aspect, the food, consists of what looks like spam fritters, a scoop of mash potatoes and a small bottle of milk; the visual elements of the eating situation elicit old memories of school meals, but the flavours are a complete surprise because of the luxurious ingredients and wonderful flavour combinations, worthy of Heston’s three Michelin stars. Surprise and delight are two of the emotions generated while eating. The room is of course entirely designed as a school classroom: wooden individual tables with chewing gums purposefully sticked under it, blackboard and maps on the wall, a bike shed sprayed with graffiti, and a gym’s bench and hanger. Another interesting component of the environment is the cutlery: to make the memories even stronger, fork and knife are oversized so that guests can have the feeling of being smaller and younger. Heston Blumenthal has designed elements of the eating situation from each one of the Five Aspects Meal Model, therefore succeeding in triggering imagination, bringing back memories and eliciting positive emotions.

If we analyse this meal, considering only the dish described above, through Jordan’s (1999) categorization of pleasure sources, we can see how Heston Blumenthal has been successful in creating an emotional experience for his guests. This dish provides physio-pleasures through the intense and cohesive stimulation of all senses: from sight being stimulated by all elements of the eating situation, through hearing with the bell ringing, touch with details like the chewing gum under the table, and of course smell and taste delighted by food. The socio-pleasures were elicited by the guests eating together and sharing memories, as well as for example the interaction with the waiting staff who served the school lunch, which create a completely different type of interaction from the one we more accustomed to, and was crucial in recreating the familiarity of the school lunch context. And finally the psycho-pleasures were also elicited, since the guests were asked to stand up, wait in line, and accomplishing themselves the task of taking the tray with food, as they would have done in school. This dinner also elicited Desmet’s (2003) surprise product emotion, as many of the elements designed were novel and unexpected, and interest product emotions, as some interactions presented a challenge combined with the promise of wonderful food.

The second example is Marije Vogelzang’s Sharing Dinner. Marije is arguably the most well-known and respected Eating Designer in the world, and she has been for the last 15 years. The sharing Dinner was designed for Droog in 2015. In this dinner the product aspect was the food that the designer considered familiar classics, like ham and melon as starters and ribs for the main course. The room aspects offered many curious and unique stimuli to the guests. One long table for all guests was set up, so they could all eat together: one first reassuring and comfortable aspect of Christmas. The most impactful elements, coming into that room, must have been the tablecloth, with both edges hanging form the ceiling. The sides of the tablecloth attached to the ceiling had vertical cuts for the guests’ hands and heads. By sticking their heads into these cuts, guests could no longer be identified by their clothes, emphasising the Christmassy concept of equality. The meeting aspect was triggered in various ways:

The guests were then seduced in various ways to make contact with each other. The starter was served on plates sawn through the middle containing only the ham or only the melon, so that neighbours had to swap dishes. With the main course the one guest was served an entire head of lettuce and the others a whole rib, the potatoes or just the gravy. In order to dine completely they had to share the food with each other. (Vogelzang, 2008: 76-77)

The designer here has designed the interaction between customers, in complete coherence with the other elements designed for the Christmas dinner concept. Within the meeting aspect, the interaction between customers and service staff was also purposefully designed. The tablecloth in fact also had cuts where waiters could stick their hands to serve the customers. This element cut off anything going on around the table from the attention of the customers, so that they could maintain the attention on the meal, and on each other, reinforcing the sense of togetherness. These cuts on the tablecloth, and this specific interaction between serving staff and customers also generated a sense of surprise, every time the something new entered the tablecloth. The designer adds:

It was only after the second course that people started getting mischievous, cutting away the tablecloth with the pair of scissors that I had placed with the cutlery. My concept was not meant to become a straitjacket. The liberation of the tablecloth was something that I’d built in advance. Designed. (Vogelzang, 2008: 77)

In this example, the meeting, room and product aspects were all designed to trigger a strong positive emotional response in customers because they were all cohesive in generating the overall atmosphere. The physio-pleasures were triggered by the food itself, the plates, the cutlery, and the tablecloth. The psycho-pleasures were also elicited by the sharing and moving around of the dishes that they were given, as well as ‘using’ the tablecloth when sticking their heads into it, and then cutting it and liberate themselves. The socio-pleasures were stimulated from the moment customers sat down and stick their head into the tablecloth, and throughout the entire dinner, dish after dish. Socio-pleasures are particularly applicable to the concept of the Christmas dinner, and Marije Vogelzang took every chance, every design element, to enhance them. Finally the ideo-pleasures were gained through the Christmas values of equality, togetherness and sharing, emphasized throughout the all dinner.

The third example I want to give are the food and displays designed by Pinch Food Design. Pinch Food Design is a catering business owned and led by designer TJ Girard and chef Bob Spiegel. We can read in their website that “[…] the Pinch team is driven by an uncompromising commitment to incite surprise, anticipation and delight with every bite while wowing our clients – and their guests – with imaginative presentation combinations that redefine the art of celebration” (PinchFoodDesign, 2011). It is clear from this quote that their intention is to elicit positive strong emotions, and they achieve that by designing food and what they call “food furniture” (PinchFoodDesign, 2011) that are coherent with one another. Cheese and cured meat are served on wooden clipboards and laid on shelves, finger food is served in tree brunches, biscuits hang from umbrellas held by waiters walking around the guests, flexible trays create movement without dropping any food, and spherical food explodes from holes in the wall flying onto plates with sauces waiting underneath. What about the food that drops on the floor? There is a croquet bat for guests to use to send the rolling food into a hole on the wall.

All of their creations combine the design of the product aspect, the room aspect, as well as the management control system and meeting aspects, because the food (product) is designed with the food furniture (room), and together they change and redefine roles and timing of service (management control system), as well as the interaction with the service staff (meeting). One final example that captures how Pinch Food Design triggers emotions is the Pinch Fork: this comes stuck vertically into a wooden board, and placed at the end of a short slide made of one curved wire. Spherical types of food, like doughnuts, are placed on the slide and kept in place by the fork. When the guest lifts the fork the doughnuts roll down the slide and land in the sauce that is there waiting. The fork is then used to grub the doughnuts dipped in sauce. This dish is designed to trigger amusement:

“Rube Goldberg devices, those quirky mechanisms where a single action starts an amusing (and often complex) chain reaction, have always been a favourite of ours. For this Intercourse, simply lift the fork, and the warm beignets slide down the copper rails and roll into the sauce”. (Girard and Spiegel, 2014: 214)

Here the physio-pleasure are triggered by food itself, and the food furniture in their entirety, as together they stimulate all five senses. The social-pleasures are triggered because of the interaction with the food furniture, as well as the interaction with the service staff through the various purposefully designed and unique trays, dishes and umbrellas. And finally the psycho-pleasures are elicited again by the interaction with the food and food furniture, as often the guest are asked to grub their food through actions not usually associated with food and its usual environment: instead of laying on a dish food is hanging on hooks, being shot from a hole in the wall, or rolling on a marbles table.

These three examples have hopefully helped demonstrate that when eating situations are designed considering all the aspects influencing the eating experience, the final result is something that has the potential for triggering a strong emotional response in the customer. Food Design, and Eating Design in particular, could help food businesses by applying a design process that aims at designing a holistic and cohesive eating situation, which customers will leave with strong positive memories.



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