In his seminal plenary speech at the Information Architecture Summit 2009 in Memphis (USA), Jesse James Garrett stated that in fact information architects and interaction designers are user experience designers. As designers, they focus on the engagement of people with artifacts, platforms and environments (online and offline).
According to Jesse, human engagement involves the mind (cognition), the heart (emotion), the body (action), and the senses (perception). Designers must know how to design for these human capabilities.
It almost goes without saying that besides for user experiences, the senses are also crucial for culinary experiences. Tastes, flavors, and smells are important human perceptions of the qualities of food. But are these inherently the qualities of food or are they only emergent through tasting and eating?
Long ago, the French lawyer and politician Jean Anthelme Brillat de Savarin (1755-1826) wrote an important and celebrated book on the human senses in a gastronomic context: “The Physiology of Taste or Transcendental Gastronomy” (1825). The book contains hardly any recipes but many anecdotes and observations covering all aspects of the pleasures of the table. He is considered ‘the greatest food critic ever’.
By reading this book, we gain understanding of our senses. We can use it to what JJG had in mind for user experience designers: facilitating compelling user experiences, never to forget.
Great stories are sources of inspiration. That’s one of the reasons we love the 18-minute presentations from the annual TED conference so much. Amazing people telling the most compelling stories.
In 2006, 2007 and 2008, a special set of these great stories was told. Robert Mondavi Winery organized the TASTE3 conference and invited storytellers from the culinary world. It’s the passion behind these stories which makes them so inspiring.
A few examples:
Chef and scholar Dan Barber relentlessly pursues the stories and reasons behind the foods we grow and eat.
Master breadmaker Peter Reinhart channels the science of baking into deep, spiritual lessons and dispels stale myths about the nature (and flavor) of good, wholesome bread.
Journalist and author Benjamin Wallace tells the true story of the world’s most expensive bottle of wine.
Owner and founder of Vosges Haut-Chocolat Katrina Markoff reveals the four steps that leads her to inspired, delicious and creative new chocolate collections.
Moto Restaurant’s Pastry Chef Ben Roche demonstrates the unique dining experience at Moto with his version of Carrot Cake, Nachos and Wine and Food Pairing.
Chef Jeffery Henderson tells his story from the streets to the stoves and how cooking changed his life.
According to the Taste3 blog, the next version of the conference will be in 2010. Deo volente.
Food is art and science. Besides chefs performing the culinary arts and crafts, many researchers have looked into food from a scientific perspective.
Under the subtitle “The Science, Culture, Business, and Art of Eating“, author Herbert L. Meiselman (Senior Research Scientists at the U.S. Army Natick Research Development and Engineering Center) has collected an interesting set of scientific essays on The Meal. The chapters of the book are grouped into parts such as ‘Definitions of the Meal’, ‘The Meal and Cuisine’, ‘The Meal and Culture’, and ‘Designing and Producing Meals’.
Although the book originally costs a fair amount, it is currently available at a reasonable 20 dollars at Amazon.
From the introduction: “The objective of this book is to appreciate the complexity of meals; to see the psychological, physiological, cultural, nutricial, biological, sensory, food service/catering, and other business aspects of meals; and to see the interdisciplinary nature of understanding meals; meals are complex, but understanding meals and addressing meals in the practical world requires a more complex view of the meal.”
The blog Food Design for the KNL Program supports the Food Design course at Industrial Design Department of Delft University (The Netherlands). The course is an experimental activity.
“Why Food Design? The underlying focus of the joint master program is cultural identity, that can be defined as a person’s self affiliation (or categorization by others) as a member of a cultural group. Since cultural identity is a very broad theme, we are proposing to focus more narrowly on cultural identity through food.
The course exploits food as a cross-cutting concern of all human societies in all times to stimulate the students to design from the micro to the macro scale in ways that are sensitive to cultural identity.”
In a two hours lecture on creativity at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 2008, world class chef Ferran Adrià (of elBulli fame) showed a short but beautifull video. In this video, the gastronomic experience of a couple is shown through their facial expressions.
Accompanied by the soundtrack ‘A Day in the Live’ (Lennon and McCartney 1967), we see how the restaurant crew serving the food to the couple, enjoying it to the max.
As Ferran said: “It’s not the food, it’s the experience.”
See also a similar interview with Ferran Adrià at Google, including reviewing the elBulli site.
Taking the restaurant as a metaphor for delivering compelling user experiences means being interested in the backstage as well as the frontstage. Backstage work in the restaurant (a.k.a. the kitchen) has been the ethnographic subject of the American sociologist Gary Alan Fine (1950). He published his findings in “Kitchens: The Culture of Restaurant Work“.
About the book: “Kitchens takes us into the robust, overheated, backstage world of the contemporary restaurant. In this rich, often surprising portrait of the real lives of kitchen workers, Gary Alan Fine brings their experiences, challenges, and satisfactions to colorful life. A new preface updates this riveting exploration of how restaurants actually work, both individually and as part of a larger culinary culture.”
“The day begins slowly. Entering an empty, clean kitchen on a cool summer morning, one has little sense of the blistering tornado of action to come.“
Chairman and founder of Cantu Designs and executive chef of Moto restaurant Homaro Cantu shows how our expectations of food based upon what we know or are familiar with can be used to change texture, taste, smell and flavor and create new experiences. Great example of designing a new food experience with known ingredients but with different processes. Transmogrification (a.k.a. the process or result of changing from one appearance, state, or phase to another) is what he does.
From Pop!Tech 2006: “Part mad scientist, part artist, chef Homaro Cantu pushes the traditional limits of known taste, texture and technique in a stunning futuristic fashion. With lab partner Ben Roche, Homaro slices and dices technology to reinvent the way people eat.”
Ron Gagnier (IBM CAN) sees an analogy between the process of cooking with recipes and the process of user-centered software design. Almost just like we do.
From his article at UXmatters: “I may have taken my analogy of following a recipe too far, but I really do think the comparison is a valid one. Recipes exist to ensure cooks can acquire the right ingredients, follow a sequence of predefined steps, and prepare a dish consistently every time. The same is true of a software design process: By following a design process, an entire project team can know what steps to perform and what they’ll deliver. When your team must make substitutions, let experience and sound judgment guide you in making the most appropriate choices. Continue to learn and grow in your role as a designer, because this will help you make better substitution decisions.”