Disegno No.8

A New Frontier: Nick Rochowski and Marije Vogelzang


27 March 2015

A New Frontier is a report into the future of the emerging discipline of food design. It features in our latest magazine, Disegno No.8, which is available to purchase now.

The feature is a wide-ranging report that looks at food design's origins, its motivations and – in light of a raft of new university degrees in the subject emerging in Europe and the USA throughout 2014 and 2015 – what it might become in future. Leading food designers such as Martí Guixé, Marije Vogelzang, Francesca Sart and Emilie Baltz all discuss their work and their opinions about the value of designing with and around food.

Accompanying the feature is a gallery of images by photographer Nick Rochowski that examines and plays with the discipline's processes and ideas. Rochowski worked with everyday and processed food items – bread, cheese, packaged noodles and ready meals – to provide his own interpretation of the work of food designers.

A New Frontier can be read in Disegno No.8, which is released today. To mark the magazine's release, we are delighted to share two pieces of supplementary material to the feature. The first is a film directed by Rochowski, in which he reveals and subverts the imagery from the photoshoot. The film can be viewed at the top of the page.

The second is a candid interview with Marije Vogelzang that follows below, and excerpts of which are published in the magazine feature. Vogelzang was one of the first food designers, founding her practice in Dordrecht, the Netherlands in 2000 after graduating from Design Academy Eindhoven. Her practice is conceptual, frequently focusing on the cultural dimensions of food. Rather than self-identify as a food designer, she prefers to label her work "eating design".

An interview with eating designer Marije Vogelzang

Why, to begin with, did you want to look at food and eating in your design practice?

It wasn’t really a set plan to begin with.I started about 15 years ago when food was not a serious issue at all in the design world. I tried a big variation of things you could do as a designer with food and every time I discovered new angles and fields, and the cultural field around food was the one I have been exploring most. It feels closest to me and It’s fascinating to see how food can influence people and bring them together. It’s such a simple glue between various people to feel more connected. It's how people can show their identity or communicate with each other.

Is it the universal quality of food that lets it play that role?

I think that’s what it is. Since we are all humans and we all have to eat and have all been fed by our mothers or whoever was taking care of us, it’s a very basic thing and something we all know and understand. That’s globally the same. We eat in different ways and have different rituals, but there’s still this very basic thing of being a child and being fed and having food experience. If you think about culture and how culture is represented, sometimes through paintings, or architecture, but people don’t think about food in the first instance. Actually food culture is the culture that’s really alive and is recreated every day. And it has to be for us to live. In that sense it’s very strongly rooted everywhere in the world. Even in places where there’s not a great deal of traditional culture, food culture is there.

When you started in 2000 food wasn’t taken particularly seriously by design. To what extent has that changed?

I think there’s kind of a revolution going on in the world anyway when it comes to food. More design schools are taking it up as a subject and you can see more and more young people graduating on food projects or doing food projects on the side. A lot of young designers now call themselves food designers., which is something that really didn’t happen15 years ago and that’s a big shift. I think a lot of designers now want to do something that makes a difference in the world and that’s something you can see everywhere. Sustainable design has to deal with food.

How easy is it to make a difference using food design. I agree it could have a huge effect, but a lot of food design projects are quite installation-based or gallery-based. Is that a problem?

That’s true. But a lot of projects anyway are not very interesting. There is a lot of development still needed. and you might not expect that designers are going to save the world. But they might be able to change the world or have an influence on what happens in other areas. That’s not going to happen instantly however. If you look at the number of graphic designers in the world and the amount of designers working on food, it’s still really, really tiny. To have a big impact it still needs more time to grow and develop. Time to take on projects that are maybe less elitist.

What does it need to be able to do that? You mentioned time and numbers. Are there other factors needed for it to have an effect?

Education helps. I didn’t have education in the food field, so I had to teach myself, which takes a lot of time and it’s hard to get the right input initially. I think education is important. The world hasn't known about designers working with food and this type of design still needs to prove itself, especially in the outside world. What can it add? What can it do for us? Why do we need it? Those are very valid questions. A lot of people in the food industry think, “Well, we already have marketeers, we already have food technologists. I think we need to show what we can do and then there will be more acceptance. Then there is an easy way to link to scientists or farmers. So things are starting. I think time is the most important thing, because time will enable acceptance and enable education. In that sense things will grow. I’m really confident that the projects that will come out will show the bigger impact that eating and design can have.

You said people need to understand what the food designer offers. How do you answer that question?

The specific role of the designer working with food, and what most designers are actually, is to link different fields of expertise. The designer is a linking agent and that’s where I think the value is. The designer is not the specialist or the farmer, but they can work together with the farmer and make the link to a different field and add some creative thinking to that to help solve problems. A kind of unexpected change. That’s the value of the designer working on food and the value of designers in general.

On your website you say food is already designed perfectly by nature. Do you still hold to that? Processed foods and packaged foods could surely be improved.

Yeah, that’s true. But maybe I say that because I think food design is a smaller part of a bigger thing called eating design. I think food design is the literal design of food, which is valid and there are really interesting works done in that field. But as you can see most of my projects are more around design. That’s why I define as eating design. It’s not that I think there’s nothing wrong with food design, there’s a lot to improve with products and development. It’s something I say because a lot of people are still having to understand what I do and what designers working with food do. A lot of people are biased instantly. They have a preconception. So I use this sentence to dispel the idea that we’re only there to shape food, give it different colours and make more money. I think a lot of people think that’s why we’re there.

How keen is the food industry to embrace designers and design thinking?

It has to do with certain individuals working in various positions in companies. Some are very open-minded and can do a great project. But these companies are massive beasts and scared of changing big things, which is kind of understandable because one little change can have a huge effect. They’re really like dinosaurs: slow because they’re so big. The best innovation comes from smaller companies because they can be more flexible. They can just change faster.