To B A DesignerofCandyCoated,JellyFilled,AlmondCrustedThings

I hope someone can advise me, I’ve researched this topic to no end and it is frustratingly elusive.

My secret ambition is to become a food designer, to design the concept, color, texture, and experience of mass produced, processed food. I see food design as an opportunity to explore and indulge in design in a way that has yet to be fully or successfully realized. More simply, while most people might say they want their food to stay un-designed or natural or food like, most of our food is highly technical, industrial, artificial, and synthetic. This does not mean good or bad. But there is no reason we shouldn’t push the design of these products to go beyond our current traditional experience. Examples are food with text molded into it, such as ingredients, calories, brand names, philosophy, advertising, poetry. Animal crackers, gummie bears, are pleasurable, there is room for more. Edible architecture, sublime product design as experienced by the mouth. I’m not talking about food science, I’m a product designer and want to bring my passion for objects to the realm of food products.

Clearly there are millions of products in the supermarket designed by someone. But who are these designers? Do they work in house at companies like masterfoods, are there design firms who specialize in this? How can I find out who is designing these products, talk to someone who knows about this area of design, and find out how I can get into it? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
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I have a friend who did an internship with Mars in the UK as a chocolate experience designer in an in-house team. I imagine that all the big companies would have in house teams for that kind of thing but im no expert.

Perhaps a Culinary Science Degree?
http://www.fshn.hs.iastate.edu/ugrad/culinary.php

I am an Industrial Designer at Mars Snackfood US but work on packaging. I have been in the seasonal group (Working on Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Valentines day) for the past year and a half and we do a little bit of food design but not a lot. Most of the food is designed by actual food designers. These people have culinary backgrounds as pastry chefs or food science degrees. Majority of the ones we hire come from the Culinary Institute of America. They make up over 50% of our R&D group and are very good at what they do and very secretive about what it as well.

My suggestion if you want top find more out about this is to stop research in design and start researching the culinary industry. Everything you mentioned in your post is true and are things that are being covered by our design kitchens every day, but to better understand them you first need to understand the food and how mass produced candy a food products are made and created. This is totally different from consumer products.

I’m appreciating the ideas. Looking towards culinary science makes a lot of sense. What I find striking though, is that as product designers we should not need to know how to cast stainless steel blades for blenders, or the chemical makeup of neoprene to coat a hand held tool, or a thousand other things, that would be crippling in a sense. As product designers, we can draw from the specializations of engineers, scientists, and other experts, and connect them to the consumer experience. I’m sure there are countless food formats that are not some kind of secret technology, but rather, the same old formula of sugar molded into different shapes. I find it strange that industrial design has not entered this most significant industry. Food scientists are not trained in the things we as designers are, and as a result, our food is often awkwardly matched to our desires.

This quote of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma illustrates how guarded this field is.

“A few years ago, in the days when “food security” meant something very different than it does today, I had the chance to visit one of the small handful of places where this kind of work is done. The Bell Institute, a leafy corporate campus on the outskirts of Minneapolis, is the research-and-development laboratory of General Mills, the sixth largest food company in the world. Here nine hundred food scientists spend there days designing the future of food- its flavor, texture, and packaging.”

Interesting topic. As a foodie, I’d like to see where this thread goes.

However, I do have to comment on your quote-

Really? Do you think that IDers shouldn’t know how the production process works for the things we make? I find that pretty incredulous. Maybe not the specific chemical formula of neoprene, but I would expect any designer worth their salt should know the basic of the common processes used. Injection molding (ie. core, cavity, sprues and all), plastics (PP vs. ABS vs. PE), etc.

For me, the most honestly useful (and interesting) class in school was Mass Production Technology that taught these things. I’d like to think that if it were not for this class I wouldn’t even be where I am today even though most of the methods/materials I dont’t currently use in my field (footwear vs. the typical plastics consumer products most of this class was geared towards). Sure we cannot be experts in everything and do rely on a team of people (engineers, psychologists, etc.), but some knowledge is key…

I do hear you though on the ID/user-centered approach to food design and the relevance of it, though I honestly don’t know enough about food design/science to say if that education/skills are enough to make food as good as it could be…


R

Perhaps my training in industrial design leads me to the presumptuous conclusion that every product that is manufactured is fair territory for the expertise of the designer. While production process is fascinating and always reveals potential for innovation; i’d like to think that it is not a barrier to ideation, conceptualizing, and design generation. To be more honest, I don’t want to think I don’t have enough information or understanding to be able to apply my design experience successfully. , I can think of many variations, improvements, solutions to existing food products that don’t require in depth knowledge of the production.

Not wanting to limit the possibilities to something as obvious as literal shaping of food, it is a good example of simple production process. There is something uniquely engaging with products like animal crackers, Flintstones vitamins, alphabet soup, gummy bears, etc. A general knowledge of casting, molding, extruding would inform the design process at the most basic level.What about the potential for educational food; that is food for children that touches on fundamental lessons; sun moon earth lollipops, or anything else from playful to indulgent to healthy.

My main interest though, is in finding a way to contact and talk to designers who are applying their industrial design knowledge to food.

Below is from the blog Food For Design, food for design

In 1997 a number of architects were invited to participate in the production of macaroni.
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This is true but chefs are. You have to remember that food design is a very complex process. Here at mars we have numerous groups that have a part in designing new products, meaning candy bars, flavors and other food. Two of these groups are what we call our “prototype and design kitchen” and also a group that is called “sensory and consumer insights”.

The prototype and design group does just what it sounds like. They do research and figure out new areas of opportunity and create new products to fill those gaps. They are all trained chefs from some of the most elite culinary schools in the country and have a lot of knowledge in food and how different flavors go together. They work very similar to the way we work as IDers meaning that they create many different concept, taste those concepts and combine different ones to create the right product.

The sensory and insights group on the other hand does something completely different. They are in charge of researching trends and making sure that we are working towards those trends. This is everything from our pkg to the food. This also includes making sure we are appealing to all of our 5 senses as food needs to hit all of them to be a great product. This includes the taste, what we call the “eat” of the chocolate meaning how it feels in your mouth, the smell, the look of the candy and the pkg, and sometimes even the sound of it when you open it or when you eat it.

So I guess in a sense you are right that there is room for ID in this process, but what is need to be known is that in a way the ID process is already taking place just in a slightly different way. Also there is not just one group typically that creates this. It is usually an effort of many different groups and chefs and designer are involved in that.

Sorry for the double post.

I don’t think with our education we can make the right decision to create the right food. If you think about we as designers have our specific talents in sketching, rendering, CAD, design research, etc… As a chef their talents are in food. They know what flavors go together and just the fundamentals on how to create good food. This is not possessed by all designers. We could help in the creation of good looking food but just because it is good looking does not mean that it would be a good product.

Thanks for the replies, I’m totally into the mystique of these design kitchens, the teams that research sensory trends and experiences, the engaging of the five senses to create a successful food product. I am actively seeking more information on this and appreciate your insight.

Somehow I want to convey the feeling I have that food products (not restaurant dining) have not yet undergone the transformation that occurs when industrial design meets an industry. Somewhere in their respective time lines, it is clear at which point industrial design truly entered the equation, in areas like the manufacturing of sporting goods, medical equipment, hygiene products, kitchen ware,etc. Surely there is a vast amount of design going on behind all products in the supermarket, yet to me it clearly seems conventional, traditional, and catering to the needs of production, not the needs of the consumer. There is a clear gap between American food design, and the design of food products in the European or Asian market, Japan for example.

Examples of food design that might not even touch on the actual recipes and taste, leaving that to a food scientist:

  1. design of food formats to allow for easier portion control, markings on the food showing serving size, ingredients, etc., daily or hourly scheduling, like an energy bar.
  2. food snack formats allowing for easier handling of food, re-wrapping, eating on the go, etc. not packaging, but the actual food shape.
  3. food shapes, textures which express or indulge in form and function, crackers with grooves to hold more spread, or something way better
  4. food with more of a visual, formal or narrative theme, either metaphorical or literal. where does it come from, how was it made, what does it taste like, who is it made for, etc…
  5. food to play with, games for children, food to be shared, traded, exchanged, etc… obviously done in a safe, healthy way.
  6. and then of course, fun, whimsical, or outrageous food design for pleasure/ fun / entertainnment (after all, who can deny eating is to some degree a form of entertainment.)

Currently, I find myself choosing whole ingredients over processed food at the supermarket because I am not attracted to the suggested tastes, the mysterious ingredients, the stories, and more. And, ultimately, as processed food becomes entirely pervasive in a not distant future, it’s design will have to offer more than it currently does. Processed food should inspire our trust in its ingredients, how it was made, how much to eat of it, it should reflect our values or pleasures less generically. Is processed food entirely evil and counter to human nutrition and sustenance, probably not. I see it as an opportunity for design. Branding, marketing, packaging, food design, food production can all converge when viewed through the lens of design.

That being said, aside from the fun in being a bit dramatic, what designer would actually want to recognize a border between product design of consumer goods and the design of consumable products. Food has its own rich design history, pretzels in the shape of prayer, cakes and bread are solid packages designed to be easily portable for peasants in fields. The Sandwich, and so on.

Below are images showing the food design aesthetic being explored in Victorian times.


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Are you from QUT? Only I have just completed a unit on food-country-design…coincidence?

Interesting, is QUT Queensland Institute of Technology? Not part of that, but I am in Melbourne these days. Would be interested in finding out more about what that unit food- country- design entailed.