Food design in context

Martí Guixé lauds the edible object

October 2015
Martí Guixé aims to revolutionise design by working on living matter that has the ability to transform and decompose, thereby hybridising such areas as anthropology, humour, gastronomy, typography, the human sciences, the exact sciences, performance, and design. By analysing situations, behaviours, and gestures, he proposes solutions that are often radical, involving minimal ergonomics. Guixé purports to transform things through observation and to invent the indispensable commodities of the 21st century. His world is composed of compact, effective objects that begin with the eye and travel to the hand before reaching the mouth. Guixé’s fondness for the subject of food design started a long time ago, and he is teeming with desire to change and improve our society.
Only when food is perceived, contextualised, ritualised, implemented, and consumed as an object, can we speak of food design. So believes Martí Guixé, a pioneer of the discipline. “The definition implies that the result of the design process is an object, an edible object”, Guixé states. “But for this object to be contextualised, it needs a ritual and/or a protocol.”
Guixé started thinking about designing food in the mid 1990s. “I was living in Berlin and was frequent-ly traveling to Seoul for work. This alienation from my normal Barcelona life, including the different foods and rituals, created an interest in configuring new foods and rituals. At that time, we were also facing big changes in lifestyle: Internet was still not so popular, but it was there, and I was already eating in front of the computer: a completely new attitude. I was very interested in mass production – as was every designer back then – and realised that food is a mass produced product, but nobody understood it or perceived it as an object. So I tried to imagine food as an edible object, and to apply to it the parameters of design. The result, the edible element, was completely different from any traditional or non-traditional food standard and outside any conventional ritual of food consumption. So I also need to redesign the context, the rituals, and the meaning. These sometimes took the form of performances, sometimes parametric instructions on usability.”
[caption id="attachment_9379" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Tapas Pasta, 1997 A way to cook pasta that allows it to be eaten as finger food Photo: Inge Knölke / Imagekontainer Tapas Pasta, 1997
A way to cook pasta that allows it to be eaten as finger food Photo: Inge Knölke / Imagekontainer[/caption]
According to Guixé, food design today is a con-sequence of the changes that design experienced before the year 2000, when its field of influence opened up and it began to be more a means of understanding reality, rather than simply a discipline for solving problems or for shaping and styling consumer goods. Guixé remembers two landmarks of this design evolution that related to food: “In 1983, Italian pasta company Voiello invited several designers to work on the form of its pasta. Among them was Giorgetto Giugiaro, who created a new type of pasta called Marille, in which the shape, together with the sauce it retained, were in the right proportion; a typical exercise of problem solving through design. Philippe Starck, who also participated in a later (1987) initiative by French pasta manufacturer Panzani, alternatively realised a more emotional shape, which was called Mandala and had a yin-yang form. With this more human configuration, Starck announced the changes that conventional design would experience at the end of the century: a technical approach gives way to an emotional one. Shape became more important than technology, but design was still based only on the object and not on its context. Despite these being referential projects of that era, I would not consider them food design, because they do not explore what pasta means, either anthropologically or gastronomically, nor do they question (like Marinetti did 100 years ago) the way that pasta is eaten. Both projects do not have deep implications within the social or political context.”
For Guixé, instead, design is strictly connected to the socio-political context. “In 1985-86 I studied industrial design at Scuola Politecnica di Design in Milan, a school derived from the Bauhaus whose ideology and aim was to change and improve our society. Thus, during my time there I was only involved in socially oriented projects. This has made me consider design in a more social way, speculating over its consequences in a certain socio-political context. A designer is, in regard to his/her way of proceeding, political by default.” The same principle applies to food design. “Design is to food design as physics is to quantum physics: the same, but more complex. There is no difference between designing a chair or an edible object, it is just more complicated. If you design a chair, you are dealing with ergonomic issues; you have to sit comfortably in it, for example. When you think of food, you have to be able to easily hold it with your fingers. Just as we deal with standard ergonomics, we also have to confront ‘inner ergonomics’, which is much more involved: it is about how ingredients affect our body. But this kind of ergonomics is still not present in food design. It is present in indus-trial food, but for the purpose of creating addiction and dependence, which means that it is against the user.”
The relationship to the industry is crucial in Guixé’s philosophy of food design. “The way I understand design is a consequence of the end of the industry as it was in the 1990s. My generation of entrepreneurs did not start manufacturing companies, but rather, new media companies. That created a void of manufacturers. I never had a client of my age and I never had the opportunity to grow with a company, side by side, like the generation of de-signers before me. I had to move design to new areas, and one of them was food design, which was not based on the industry but on knowledge and culture. We need to be user oriented, as design-ers but primarily as manufacturers. This is difficult for big concerns but natural for small makers from the previous generation. Brands are becoming and behaving more and more like individuals, because heir attitude counts as an aspect of visibility; it creates perceptions and affinities. In my work I am very experimental, and this is why there are so few things produced, because the industrial context is still not favourable to my edible objects. But things are changing very rapidly, and I notice that there is a new attitude and a new perception of what comprises manufacturing and the making of objects, which is perfect for food design. Also, there are now several schools teaching food design and lots of people are trying to do this professionally. Even when it is actually about creative gastronomy or just funny catering, they understand it as food design, and it is somehow booming.”
[caption id="attachment_9382" align="alignnone" width="671"]The first 3D-printed SPAMT, 2017 Drawing: Inga Knölke, 2015 he first 3D-printed SPAMT, 2017 Drawing: Inga Knölke, 2015[/caption]
The relationship with manufacturing is still the biggest challenge for food designers today. “If we cook or process food manually, we are not in a de-sign context – we are merely acting as craftsmen. The food industry, on the contrary, works with very old-fashioned parameters: it just imitates hand-made food using artificial and unhealthy ingredients, which are the result of engineering processes driven by technology, economical optimisation, logistics, transportation, and storage. If we think of an edible object that is user oriented, it has to be freshly manufactured, healthy, and to also include all the design parameters, such as ergonomics and usability. This is quite complex, and it is only hanges in manufacturing that will bring about a new culture of food design.”
So what does the future hold? “Design has to be-come a subject taught in foundation courses at school, as this would make it possible for people to understand the reality, the practical world, in a more holistic way.” Guixé responds. “These design-ers would then have the power to rethink our society from the roots. It is proven, in fact, that the best businesses were founded by ex-designers, as the way a designer thinks and organises projects is very different from that of a non-designer. This value of design as applied to non-specific design projects is very important for our society, for the future of design in general, and, more specifically, for the future of food design.” ‹