In the forefront  November 2010

Food is not a chair. But it can be designed as if it were one

What is Food Design? And why is it becoming an important part of the food industry? Food designer, Paolo Barichella, responds

Food Design

The flavor of the future

Next food: interactive chocolate that can be surfed using your cell phone

All you need is a digital camera and an Internet connection to access an entire world of information contained on the chocolate bar itself. Open Chocolate is a limited edition Valrhona chocolate created by Food Design Studio and Paolo Barichella for Tuttofood, a food fair held in Milan every two years. So what exactly is so special about this chocolate? It is an interactive chocolate bar that is stamped with a graphic code. Using a third generation cell phone, you can access a series of nutritional information about the product, as well as a database of chocolate recipes.
This same concept can be applied to many products, leading to new way s of consumption. Soon, you may find yourself chatting with a cracker, entering into a community with a slice of Gorgonzola or exchanging advice with a head of lettuce. Interaction is the key of the future.

Ma. Vi.

Not only was chair you are sitting in or the monitor you have in front of you designed by a designer. These days, even food is being designed. “Food design is designing a food product in terms of the context and environment in which it will ultimately be consumed. Food design also involves creating tools for eating food and services related to it, like the design of a dish: it encompasses all the rules of constituent, chromatic and formal rules in which food is presented on a plate,” explains Paolo Barichella, founder of the Food Design Studio in Milano.

Barichella is an authority in the subject. In 2006, he taught a class on Food Design at Adi (Association for Industrial Design) and wrote a manifesto that gained the support of professors who work in the fields of sociology, psychology, food technology, design and nutrition, as well as chefs. “With respect to other design products, food has additional variables or characteristics: it should be healthy, aesthetically pleasing, flavorful and culturally relevant. For this reason, planning or designing food requires a wide range of competencies.”

Up until now, design has rarely been a part of the food industry, but the rules of designing food are similar to those for an object. “Only now are we beginning to realize that applying design to food is a good strategy. No one at the management level in the food industry thought to hire a designer to develop new products; this job has always been handled by the marketing or R&D departments. New food products were made by following a logic and a product line: these are important factors in the industry, but they can lead to distraction from the real needs of the final consumer.” Instead, designers try to interpret people’s needs, providing a service in terms of an object that is the result of accurate and efficient planning. “In consumer goods, that  do not last, it is important to created something that remains over time, like loyalty, so that people recognize something special with the first bite.”

The shape of the object, “the final part of the design process and only makes sense if it serves the object’s function,” is often what characterizes a food product. For example, “the shape of the bottle of traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, designed by Giugiaro in 1985 and commissioned by the consortium to differentiate the product from classic balsamic vinegar, is easily recognizable and protects the authenticity of the product. Bottling the traditional vinegar in Giugiaro’s bottle has even become a rule of production.”

Alcuni degli strumenti per il consumo creati da Food Design Studio: Bridge Dune, Pocketizer, Coffee Design Kit

Some of the tools created for consumption by Food Design Studio: Bridge Dune, Pocketizer, Coffee Design Kit

Society is changing, as is our way of consuming food. “In my field, before starting a new project, you always begin with a sociological analysis in order to understand the direction that society is moving in. Think about vending machines: they are very interesting development interfaces. Food is changing because, thanks to technology, products have longer shelf lives, can be transported more easily and sold in new ways, like in a vending machine.” The machines that we put coins in exchange for a snack, they could become small product encyclopedias. Thanks to the latest generation of cell phones, capable of reading QR (quick response) codes, you can learn everything you want to know about packaged foods.

Thirty years from now, however, a meal will still be a meal. “We already have the possibility to live off of pills rather than food; if this hasn’t happened it is because it is human desire to share the act of eating with others. The social value, nutritional value and enjoyment of a meal will not change. Perhaps we will eat while in motion, rather than seated at a table, and this will change our way of using food.” Designers are looking into new tools for consuming food, new ways to transport it solid, ergonomically correct containers.

At the moment, Barichella is developing a line of party products for Eatool. The “pocketizer”, for example, is a little pouch that can be attached to the bottom of a wine glass so that you can pick up finger foods with your free hand. “It may seem banal, but the product has many advantages. Sociologically speaking, it resolves the problem of not being able to shake owns hand at a standing cocktail party because your hands are full. All it takes is a simple object to improve the interaction between people.” Fantastic. From now on you can eat potato chips, while shaking someone’s hand. Hopefully you know better than to shake with the greasy one.

Mariagrazia Villa

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2 “Food is not a chair. But it can be designed as if it were one”

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