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The Four Food Design Pillars

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

By Francesca Zampollo Ph.D.


When we think of “food designing”, of designing food or anything around eating, what are the aspects of knowledge we should consider? What are the areas we should investigate, and the information we should include in our project? We can think of such knowledge, such areas, as being divided into four main pillars that together make the whole Food Design discipline. These four pillars are food, society, technology, and environment. These are the four areas that food designers should investigate when designing anything related to food and eating, regardless of whether they are designing a dish, an event, a food service or a whole food system: every dish, every product, every event, and every food service is part of a system, and each food system sits on these four pillars. Each food system is made of elements from these four pillars, and within any Food Design project one should design aspects (or considering aspects) from each of these four pillars.


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Visualising these four pillars allows food designers, chefs, and food innovators to possibly using them as a guide in any Food Design project; they can be a guide to executing a more exhaustive project that brunches out into a deeper research, and to implementing a solution that is more deliberate, thoughtful, inclusive, sustainable, effective, forward thinking, and possibly radical.

The first of the four pillar has to be FOOD. Being this Food Design, not fashion design or graphic design for example, food is indeed at least one quarter of everything food designers think about in their projects. For example, whatever they design in the area of food and eating, they mush think about the types of food needed, the source of this food, its nutritional aspects, how it interacts with all senses, what its vessel will be, whether this food is available, and how it will be available to customers, the commercial implications of acquiring this food, how it has been or should be produced, how it has been or should be distributed, how it has been or should be prepared, how it will be consumed, what type of cuisine it represents, issues of food safety, as well as considerations on diets and allergies. When designing anything that has to do with food, food designers much consider at least a few of these aspects. The more of these are considered, the richer the Food Design project will be.

The second pillar is SOCIETY. It is likely that the food element of a project, as well as the service in which it is given to customers, and the overall system in which it sits, will impact, in various ways, individuals, communities and society. For this reason the food designer should consider issues related to class, gender and sexuality, values and beliefs, needs, behaviours and interactions, ethnical relations (food is identity, so it can have an impact on ethnical identity), leisure, education, health, social policy, communication, and family. The food designer will also think about issues related to money: the money people will need to acquire product or use the service, the money needed to make this project into reality, the investments that should be asked of stakeholders, and the profit that should be made. When designing anything that has to do with food, food designers have to consider at least a few of these aspects of Society. The more of these are considered, the richer the Food Design project will be.

The third pillar is TECHNOLOGY, or in other words, everything man made that is designed, or that is needed to design something. Food designers must think about materials (in this case we should consider inorganic materials, because food too, in its raw form, is considered a material, but food itself as a material is part of the first pillar), technology for communication, hardware and softwares, nanotechnology, and then manufacturing, transportation of materials, parts, and products, construction of spaces, and energy consumption as, for example, fossil fuel or renewable energy. Inevitably, when designing anything that has to do with food, these aspects too will have to be considered. The more of these are considered, the richer the Food Design project will be.

And finally, the fourth pillar of Food Design is ENVIRONMENT. Food designers should first of all take into account the ethical aspects related to animals and plants. This means thinking about the animals and plants that make up the food itself, but also any ethical considerations about their lives before they became food. Food designers should think about maintaining or improving biodiversity on this planet, various possible problems that the product or service to augment, or problems that the product or service diminish, like overpopulation, deforestation, air, soil, and water pollution, energy conservation, climate change, the use of natural resources, and of course waste.

The four pillars of FD are the four columns on which every Food Design project should stand on. Projects missing the proper understanding of these areas are projects that lack depth, refinement, and the potentials for proposing radical innovation. Since food designers, like all designers, should aim high with every project, towards radical innovation in meaning and in technology, and indeed towards sustainable solutions, this tool should be used as a map to achieve these goals. The four Food Design pillars can be used as a checklist in the context exploration phase, and as a trigger in the ideation phase of the Food Design Thinking process.


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