By Cristina Castellanos
Francesca Zampollo is an Italian food designer living in New Zealand, as well as a researcher and consultant, with a PhD in design theory for eating design. She founded the International Food Design Society and created the first International Journal of Food Design.
Defining FOOD DESIGN is not easy and one thing Francesca has found in her research is that people with different backgrounds provide different definitions. ¨When I researched for food design on line, I would get a mixture of answers, from a modern chair to a profiterole, all on the same page, all under the name ‘food design’. These examples draw on different design disciplines and I started becoming interested in looking into those backgrounds.” Products and projects may include design but that alone does not guarantee a successful outcome. Some products end up not being used, and more often than not, very good design goes unnoticed.
Despite the complexity and ambiguity of the subject, Francesca has tried to define what it is.
Design+ Thinking+ Innovation+ Design awareness= Food design
Through her analysis, she has defined six sub-disciplines:
Design about Food, where food serves as the inspiration for creating objects that are not edible but are clearly influenced by food.
Design with Food, when chefs and food scientists create new flavours or textures and create anything from molecular cuisine to lab-grown hamburgers. Here the background discipline is usually Culinary Art or Food Science.
Design for food, as the subtitle suggests, involves products designed for food, for cooking, chopping, transporting and so on. Unfortunately, Francesca thinks this area has the most examples of what many of us consider useless design, and it raises questions for Francesca, such as what improvements do these products make to our lives? Or what do these products do that no other product does? She thinks designers should help create a better world rather than one that is just filled with things that at some point will inevitably turn into even more rubbish.
Food Space design or interior design for food involves designing the eating or cooking environment. Here the background discipline is usually Interior Design or Architecture.
Food Product design includes edible products that are industrially produced like pasta or potato crisps. The background discipline can either be product design, Industrial design with often the help of food engineering.
Eating design involves designing an eating situation, which means designing every aspect that influences the eating experience. Here the food designer is designing really everything. This is what usually catering companies do, not only they provide the food, but they also think about the environment (which includes music, light, tables, cutlery, etc.) and aspects of service.
To arrive at these definitions, Francesca began studying industrial design in Turin. During her studies she realized she was not interested in creating even more physical objects and could not bear the thought of designing yet another washing machine.
To move away from this type of design, she chose an optional workshop with the least boring name, and on her first day of class, lo and behold, in walked a chef Davide Scabin (owner and head chef of the two Michelin stars restaurant Combal Zero in Rivoli, Italy), who talked about designing food rather than just cooking. From that moment on everything revolved round food. Francesca went on to do an internship at Venchi where she designed Unico, a brand of chocolates designed for the comfort of your mouth.
In 2007, she left Italy to do a master’s in London and met different kinds of people, including artists, painters, sculptures and architects. Soon the outlines of what design was supposed to be became blurred. Francesca went on to do a PhD in design theory at London Metropolitan University, and did a 6 months research internship at Cornell University in the Food & Brand Lab, which focuses on Food Phychology. The Food & Brand Lab was founded by Brian Wansink, a professor in consumer behaviour and nutritional science and the author of Mindless Eating, a book which had a profound effect on Francesca: ¨That is when I fell in love with research¨.
Since then, she has organised the first academic conference on food design in London in 2012 and is now organizing the second one in New York. Francesca Zampollo is not a woman you can categorise in a single profession. Like food design, the definition of what she does, where its starts and ends, is blurred. She is passionate about Food Design Thinking, a process she is conceptualizing to create design methods to conceive new ideas on food and eating. Her work combines theory, research, art and design.
Francesca is currently working on a research project called In search of meaningful food, ¨I have a deep connection with this project.¨
The ideal of a designer is to design something meaningful, since there are already plenty of useless things around. Designers keep making new objects while Francesca thinks that they should focus more on creating something meaningful that connects people.
And then it struck her, how can I design meaningful food if I don’t know what it looks like?
And so she began her research on what makes food meaningful. She launched a video online asking people to submit their own most meaningful food, not their favourite food, but a video where they explained the story of their most meaningful food.
The online response was extremely positive and even though this is still an on-going project, Francesca has already made some interesting discoveries.
Meaningful food becomes meaningful the moment it creates a strong emotion and then turns into a memory. The moment this food is memorable it becomes meaningful.
When you eat, you experience food with your senses. Emotions are created, you categorise an experience as pleasurable or dangerous, and then more complex emotions combine with the meanings.
Food connects strangers. Food design can create moments of change in a life and make a difference.
Francesca is a pioneer in her field and has embarked on an academic journey of food design where she gives conferences and writes papers, proposals and projects.
¨I love talking and people respond well, they understand the magic. It’s easy for food design to get under your skin, it makes you laugh, it’s surrounded by stories and emotions, it can make you cry: for me food design is the most fascinating discipline. Food is ephemeral. It disappears, it doesn’t last. A chair can last up to fifty years but food is meant to disappear. With food design, we are not designing products, we are designing memories. Our creations only exist physically for a few moments but become timeless in people’s minds.”
Francesca wants to be remembered as the person who helped make a place for food design in academia, and establish it as a discipline. She has founded the first international Food Design society, the first conference, the first set of papers, the first journal. And she will continue to create strong connections.
Food design is exploding!
There is so much knowledge within food design, that Francesca doubts there will ever be a single complete food designer. The method is influenced by so many other disciplines that it would be impossible for one person to learn all there is to know. Even though there are professionals doing a great job of explaining the complexity of food design, she thinks food design will inevitably need a team of different people, with their own knowledge and influences, from food scientists and artists to designers and chefs, drawing on culture psychology, photography and history.