Synaesthesia: The multisensory dining experience

Paper from Charles Spence, the authority on designing food and dining experiences in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science 18 (2019).


“The phenomenon of synaesthesia has undoubtedly proved a great inspiration to a number of artists, designers, and marketers for more than a century now. In fact, novelists, poets, composers, and painters, such as Nabokov, Baudelaire, Scriabin, and Kandinsky, all used synaesthetic correspondences to inform their world-famous artworks. By contrast, chefs, the best of whom are increasingly being considered as artists in their own right, rarely seem to reference the condition in their culinary creations. This situation is, though, slowly starting to change, as a small but growing number of innovative chefs take the surprising cross-sensory connections exemplified by synaesthesia, and the related phenomenon of crossmodal correspondences, as a source of culinary inspiration and aid to menu design. Illustrating this new approach, we summarize Synaesthesia, a multisensory dining concept that was presented to diners by Kitchen Theory in London in 2015.

The recipes for this multi-course tasting menu are provided and a number of the key experimental findings, based on the dishes that were served, discussed. The popularity of this culinary concept highlights the potential of the synaesthesia/crossmodal correspondences approach to stimulate both the chefs as well as the diners they serve. Synaesthesia constituted a delicious form of edible ‘edutainment’. According to press reports, many diners came away from this tasting menu with their curiosity having been stirred. The hope is that they also learnt something about how their senses function together in order to deliver the rich multisensory experiences of everyday life, no matter whether or not they themselves happened to be synaesthetic.” (Charles Spence and Jozef Youssef, 2019)

Harmony and Balance as High-Order Design Principles


Two high-order qualities of compelling user experiences revolve around the principles of harmony and balance. People feel at ease experiencing these. Unfortunately, high-order principles aren’t discussed in the user experience domain extensively.

Reading this article by Jennifer Farley (Sitepoint) on balance as a design principle and finding this blogpost on Washoku cooking and design by Garr Reynolds (Presentation Zen) inspired me to learn more on how principles of Japanese cooking can improve my designs for experiences.

In Japanese cuisine, the Power of Five rules. Five principles outline the ideal components of every meal. Each principle is a list of five items which should all be present for a nutritionally, visually, spiritually balanced meal, with no single component overpowering the others.

  • Harmony in color. Washoku meals include foods that are red, yellow, green, black and white. This is not only visually pleasing, but a great way to be sure you are getting a good nutritional balance with your meal.
  • Harmony in palate. By having a balance of salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy foods, a washoku-style meal is thoroughly satisfying to the entire palate.
  • Harmony in cooking method. Washoku-style meals use several different methods of cooking in each meal: simmering, searing, steaming, raw, and sauteeing or frying.
  • Harmony in the senses. Each meal should please the five senses: taste, sight, sound, smell and touch (texture).
  • Harmony in the outlook. This is a philisophical idea that when eating we should attempt, first to respect the efforts of all those who contributed their toil to cultivating and preparing our food; second, to do good deeds worthy of receiving such nourishment; third, to come to the table without ire; fourth, to eat for spiritual as well as temporal well-being; and fifth, to be serious in our struggle to attain enlightenment.

Elisabeth Andoh (author of Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen) says: “Selecting ingredients at their peak of seasonal flavor, choosing locally available foods from both the land and the sea, appealing to and engaging all the senses, using a collage of color, employing a variety of food preparations, and assembling an assortment of flavors – a Washoku approach to cooking gives the creative and contemplative cook an opportunity to satisfy his or her own aesthetic hunger while providing sustenance and sensory pleasure to others.”

I immediately ordered her book.

Philips Food Design Probes


The combination of design and food can be very fruitful for people and companies. They get a lot of inspiration from it and take it as metaphor, domain or just for the fun of it.

Armin Hofmann from the art blog ‘today and tomorrow‘ reports on one example, the Food Design Probes from consumer electronics company Royal Philips.

“Food Design Probes is a research project by Philips. They developed ideas how we will eat and source our food in the future, like in 15 to 20 years. There are 3 products we might have in our homes by then:

  • The Nutrition Monitor. It basically has 3 parts, a sensor which you have to swallow, a scanner which can measure the nutritional value of food and a display device. So you’ll exactly know what your body needs and what kind of effect your food will have on it.
  • The Food Printer. Remember the 3D sugar printer? Well, this is the next generation. The machine brings molecular gastronomy to your kitchen. ‘Feed’ is with some ingredients, pick a shape, let it print … and voilà your amazing 3D dish is ready. I can’t wait to see all the opensource 3D recipes that will be available!
  • The Biosphere Home Farm. It’s a 21st century aquarium crossed with stylish shelving unit, it contains fish, plants and other mini ecosystems.”

Let’s see if this consumer electronics company can deliver some great designs from this far-future research and food inspiration.

A Food Designer is Somebody Working With Food (…)

Food as material – “Food Design makes possible to think in food as an edible designed product, an object that negates any reference to cooking, tradition and gastronomy. Guixé as a Food Designer builds edible products that are ergonomic, functional, communicative, interactive, visionary but radically contemporary and timeless.”

It’s like creating art with code but never execute the code and see what happens.

The Art of Eating

The ‘user’ is the centre figure for user experience designers. Tradition, a sense of place and simplicity are the ‘leitmotives’ of great meals and diners. How they play a crucial role for food addicts is the topic of this magazine.