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As someone who loves a good mash-up, I was keen to see (feel, hear, smell and taste) how Kitchen Theory’s collaborative gastronomic project fused the fields of gastronomy; food science, food culture, food history, multi-sensory flavour perception, and neurogastronomy into its first Multi-Sensory Gastronomy Seminar and networking event. The event brought together people interested in synaesthesia (“union of the senses”–a condition in which two or more of the senses are involuntarily and automatically joined together) and crossmodal interactions (how the brain integrates information across the different sensory modalities).

Dr. Charles Spence (Head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the Department of Experimental Psychology, Oxford University) described the fascinating experiments they’ve got brewing at Oxford, including collaborations with Science Museum’s Craving’s exhibit, in which they’re testing how the shape of food packaging affects peoples’ taste expectations, whether people prefer 3 or 4 items arranged on a plate, and whether the orientation of food on plate affects perceptions of price and quality.

Image credit: Science Museum

Jozef Youssef, the chef, explained how Kitchen Theory came into being and how he’s applied principles of neurogastronomy to the design of his menus and ‘experimental dining’ events. I can attest to the tastiness of his Synaesthesia lunch experience (see photo of dessert). An interesting finding from his experiments is that when people are partaking of a 7-course meal, they enjoy and remember a dish more when they inhale a scent that’s related to the food before they taste it. Jozef tried this experiment with the soup course, which is usually somewhere in the middle range in terms of post-meal memorability and enjoyment (mains and desserts are often the winners).

Above and featured image credit: Heather McQuaid

Harking back to my days as a student of Cognitive Psychology, I’d guess that the stronger memory could be explained by dual-coding (more than one modality is activated, creating two activation pathways for the memory) and distinctive encoding (aka the Von Restorff effect based on the perceptual salience the scent+soup course which stands out from the other courses which did not have scents sprayed into the air beforehand). But, because he used scents, there could also be some kind of affective (emotional) memory activation. The olfactory bulb (which processes smell) is part of the limbic system in our brains which is also where we process emotions. And we know that smells can also trigger memories. A smell that triggers emotions and memories makes us more attentive to a situation (or a soup), which also makes it more likely we’ll remember it. As for whether we’ll enjoy it, as long as Jozef is not spraying something that triggers a highly negative memory, or serving an unpleasant tasting soup (which he wouldn’t do, not even in the name of science!), enjoyment should be as least as high as the other dishes, and even more so if happy memories are triggered or the reward centres in the brain are lighting up like a Christmas tree.

Last up was Daniel Ospina, an experience designer who’s worked in several acclaimed restaurants (including Fat Duck). Daniel showed examples of how multi-sensory design has been used to improve consumer experiences and posed some serious food for thought: how might we apply multi-sensory design to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems such as obesity, overpopulation, and water and food scarcity?

As someone who works with consumer, industrial, and medical companies, I can see the opportunities to apply multisensory design beyond the consumer experience. It could be used to enhance the human experience across all the touch points we have with people, products, and services. For example we could:

  • make ‘hospital’ food more enticing by arranging the food on plate in a certain way
  • appeal to more potential users of DIY tools by using a typeface that people see as more approachable
  • encourage healthier eating by introducing scents than make food taste sweeter (or saltier) without adding sugar and salt
  • reduce tension between different groups (e.g., communities and police) using calming colours, fabrics, and typefaces
  • help people remember and recall information by activating their sense of smell

I’m sure that there’s already a good amount of academic research into some (if not all) of those areas, but to apply that research to the design of products, services, and processes, requires the collaboration of many types of people (designers, architects, doctors, engineers, artists, chefs, CEOs of industry and social enterprises and charities). Kitchen Theory is one programme exploring such collaborations, and I’m looking forward taking part.

It would be great to know if there are similar projects, and also how others have used multi-sensory design to improve the human experience. Tweet @PDDinnovation or email with your thoughts.

Food and beverage – nourishing, hydrating, stimulating and refreshing. But what happens when you throw a bit of science and technology into the mix? In our blog this week we’ll be taking a look at how the food and beverage industry has been shaped and influenced by technology from other sectors; and where science, technology and art cross over to create whole new experiences…

Image credit: ABSOLUT Unique from ABSOLUT Vodka
Featured image credit: The Future of Food, cover illustration for Icon magazine 104 by Zim and ZouManufacturing inconsistency
From an industry where heavy investment goes into creating consistency for mass manufacture, ABSOLUT Vodka took a very different approach last year to one of their new editions to the Absolute family. The ABSOLUTE Unique campaign explored and reflected the times we are living in through the utilisation of technology to create more personalised experiences for consumers. By re-engineering their production process, ABSOLUT created a series of bottles each featuring a unique design. Using splash guns, colour-generating machines and a specially developed algorithm, individual patterns were placed onto the bottles. Using just 35 colours and 51 patterns, they created nearly four million uniquely designed bottles.

Image credit: ‘Makr Shakr’ robotic bartender by MIT senseable lab + Carlo Ratti  

Crowd-sourced flavour creation
The food and beverage industry hasn’t escaped the crowd-sourcing phenomena either; researchers at the MIT senseable city lab developed a robotic bar tender in collaboration with the Coca-Cola Company and Bacardi. Named ‘Makr Shakr’, consumers were able to create personalised cocktail recipes in real-time using a specially designed app and transform them into crowd-sourced drink combinations. The concept behind this development wasn’t to replace ‘the human touch’; instead it explored the possibilities offered by digital manufacturing technologies, pushing the boundaries of shared sensorial experiences through social media and principles of co-creation.

Image credit: 3D printed pasta prototype by Janne Kyttanen

Technical textures
Artists and designers continue to push the boundaries of technology, sometimes through product improvement and sometimes through provocative narratives. Janne Kyttanen’s 3D printed food exploration touched on both of these elements. Using plastic as a medium for exploration, intricate shapes for ‘pasta’ were created using 3D printing that not only looked beautiful, but also revisited the relationship between form and surface finish to capture sauce.

Image credit: The Sugar Lab, 3D printed sugar 

Moving from niche to known
3D printed food has been explored quite a lot in the past few years through various ingredients from chocolate to cheese and sugar, like these amazingly complex geometric shapes from The Sugar Lab. Personalisation and niche applications has been the mainstay for this technology of late, but developments in this area could soon be taking a leap forward following the news last year that NASA is funding research into the technology for food development.

Image credit: Star Trek food replicator

New frontiers of personalisation
NASA’s exploration of 3D printed food aims to see if this technology can be utilized to provide astronauts with more variety, enhanced nutrition, texture and flavour in meals during long space missions. “The printers will combine powders to produce food that has the structure and texture of actual food.” It may conjure up images of Star Trek for many, but the possibilities of creating food and even entire meals through the ‘digital space’ is probably closer than we may dare to think!

Elevating this type of technology away from the niche and the novel highlights the deeper rooted benefits it could pose in the future. Such as; how could we utilize these developments to redefine ‘supply and demand’?  Could we cut food waste in the future? Find a way around distribution issues? Or, even start to tackle famine?

It seems that now designers and scientist have had space to ‘play’, its time to understand the real benefits such technologies could pose in the future of food development.



As Chinese New Year is approaching; we decided to talk about the obsession of homophonous (all things related to good fortune and auspicious) during Chinese New Year.

For most of you who have any Chinese friends, you might have notice that your Chinese friend favours the number “8”.  That’s because number “8” is pronounced “faat / 發” in Cantonese has the meaning of wealth. The obsession of homophone words towards good fortune is not only limited to numbers. During the 10 days of Chinese New Year celebration almost every type of food that’s presented on the table has to be homophonously related to some kind of good fortune. This is the principle for Chinese New Year “Foodition”. Let us name few special dishes/food as examples.

1: 湯圓 (Tāngyuán, Rice ball)

Sweet rice ball in soup is a must-have dessert for New Year’s Eve. The word “yuán” means “round” but it also sounds like “union”. In addition, the rice ball floating in the sweet clear broth looks like a bright moon hanging in the winter sky, which is a symbol of reunion, an auspicious meaning. Different regions serve different flavour rice balls, some can be savoury but we prefer the dessert rice ball.

Image credit:

2: 年糕 (nián gāo, New Year Rice Cake)

Not having New Year Rice Cake for new year is like not having a turkey for Christmas. The word 年糕 literally means New Year rice cake. The word “gāo” also sounds like the word “Rise”.  Chinese people have been having New Year Rice Cake for over two thousand years, because who doesn’t want their career, life or romance to “rise” throughout the year?

Image credit: impic

3: 蘿蔔糕 (lo4 baak6 gāo, Turnip cake)

Turnip cake is another delight for Chinese New Year. Cantonese people enjoy this dish so much that you can find it on regular dim sum restaurant menus. The main ingredient for this cake is a type of radish. In Chinese we call radish “chhài-thâu” and their colour is a homophone for “good fortune” hó-chhái-thâu” in Chinese. Chinese New Year is all about names/words/phrases that relate to good fortune, wealth, lucky, prosperity, etc…

Image credit: Chancedia

To celebrate the year of the snake with our team in Hong Kong and London, we’ve made some traditional turnip cake. To get our recipe for turnip cake, you can contact Emily:

The homophone characteristic in Chinese New Year is only a small part of Chinese New Year tradition. This is just to give a taste of the New Year. Finally, Kung Hei Fat Choy and Happy Chinese New Year!

There is a phrase “it looks so good you could eat it”, but are there times where this idea goes a step too far? Or are there lessons to be learnt when it comes to product design? In this post I take a look at the force that is food.

There is a lot that can be said about the world of food today. It is mega. In writing this article I have found that I could go on and on, and that others could probably say it better (and have), but there are a few points that I wanted to highlight here and discuss with you.
As food increasingly becomes a form of entertainment, it, in itself, is becoming more beautiful. If I compare the LV fashion shoot below, with this image of popcorn (above), it seems to me that there is a similar air of construction and styling. Colour, light, depth all handled with precision. Food has become fetishised.
[Image credit: Louis Vuitton]
Let’s eat everything!
And then there is the whole world of edibles – what is the obsession with eating everything?! As if we weren’t already eating enough! On a serious note though, the current research done into edible packaging is interesting, take a look at Wikicells and start to envisage a world of reduced plastics and paper. Even Victor Vetterlein’s Bite Me lamp makes an interesting foray into transient objects, considering a product’s decomposition after use. Soak his lamp made of biodegradable plastic derived from vegetable glycerine and agar, a gelatin made from sea algae, and you have yourself a plate of jelly. Or just stick it on the compost heap.
[Image credit: Victor Vetterlein]
Glamour Glaze
Promotion – designer collaboration
As discourse around ‘design’ becomes more mainstream, it is not surprising that brands start clambering to collaborate with the latest creative geniuses. IBM did it with, Marks & Spenser with Marcel Wanders, and food brands are no different – Glamour magazine partnered with Krispy Kreme and Hagen Dazs Japan joined forces with Nendo. Interestingly, Nendo’s brief was to design an aromatherapy candle holder giveaway to Japanese consumers as a premium gift. The act of eating Häagen Dazs is typically marketed as something of a special occasion, for when you need a treat, or perhaps wanting to impress a potential suitor. Creating an aromatherapy candle, with the scent of creamy vanilla reinforces Häagen Dazs’ brand reputation surrounding luxurious experiences, while retaining Nendo’s classic and simple design ethos.
[Image credit: Häagen-Dazs Japan]
Food has so many meanings in our lives – the self-indulgent moment, the social facilitator, the romantic first meeting, the nervous comfort, the apology… It is no wonder then that it becomes a powerful vehicle for artists and designers, as well as cooks, to connect with audiences in any culture.
[Image credit: Fact or Fiction myth-busting food info-graphic]
Construction – information design
Food’s power to convey interesting contradictions, celebrations and opportunities is perhaps why it had been fully adopted in information design.
Often you may be wondering if the food is the communication or is the communication actually food. This blurred boundary is what spurred me to write this post in the first place, I am interested to see that food as become a form of entertainment and ultimately a new way to construct identity… to become part of the cool gang.
Entertainment – new social currency
I blame M&S for starting the whole ‘sexy food’ movement. Before, we had normal food and artisanal food, but after that advertisement – you know, the one with the piping hot chocolate pudding and crispy roast potatoes – everyone got a bit more sensual with their food. Since then, brands have understood that to really excite our taste buds they need to show movement in food, to make it less two dimensional. Cue dripping sauces, wafting steam and bouncing Brussel sprouts.
And what makes experiences so great – the moment of discovery, being the first, the chance to tell your friends that you were there… and it was amazing. In the last year the number of apps rose dramatically, offering smartphone users social platforms for capturing food and even photoshopping tools to beautify their pics, helping thousands of people show off their latest discoveries.
[Image credit: Caviar Mani by Ciate]
Allure – tempting the senses
Of course, I could go on – cooking blogs, food-bots, chef communities, artisan take-away services, food trucks… but what really interests me is what this all means for product design? I am in no way advocating that TV’s should look like beef wellington or respiratory devices look like Cornettos. But what can we learn about the allure of food and create products that are just as appealing to consumers?
Good lighting might be one thing, but also to understand the importance of the senses; touch, smell, sights and overall the need to create mouth-watering expectation. The macaroon bakers Ladurée branched into beauty last year, using all their skill and branding for food and applying it to make-up. Whatever your design taste, the above example of packaging pulls on all the brand’s heritage and glamour and entices with a glimpse of something special within. Anticipation is a key word to consider.
[Image credit: Ashtanur by Ido Mohar and Baruch Mogilevsky]
P.s… Novelty – why not?!
Of course, there is the plain and simple novelty side of things. Who doesn’t want a pitta pencil case?