Rituals for the Contemporary World

New York

7 March 2017

In 2015, food design experienced a sort of awakening.

In the early half of the year, the Pratt Institute in New York began Food Design Studio, a semester-long class hosted in the school’s industrial design department; in July, Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE) in the Netherlands announced Food Non Food, a BA department headed by designer Marije Vogelzang; and in December, Scuola Politecnica di Design (SPD) and International University of Languages and Media (ILUM) in Milan announced a joint MA in food design, sponsored by PepsiCo. Suddenly food design was being taken seriously enough to be recognised as an academic discipline.

Now, two years later, the first magazine to be dedicated entirely to food design is about to launch. MOLD is a biannual magazine that examines and speculates the future of food through the lens of design. The magazine’s approach is predominantly socially-driven. Citing the United Nations prediction that by 2030 the world’s population will exceed the number of people it is capable of feeding, as one of its driving inspirations, MOLD aims to examine and articulate “how design can help feed a hungry planet.”

The magazine is founded by New York-based journalist LinYee Yuan and follows the online food design platform of the same name, which launched in 2013. The debut issue, Designing for the Human Microbiome, will comprise 20 stories written by designers, practitioners and academics including Maije Vogelzang, Okolo and Daisy Ginsberg.

As a advertising-free publication, today MOLD launches a Kickstarter campaign to fund the magazine. The campaign looks to raise $34,000 to finance the production and printing costs of the first three issue of the magazine.

Ahead of the launch of MOLD’s Kickstarter campaign, Disegno spoke to LinYee about why food design matters, her belief in its potential to change how the world eats, and the importance of looking to the future. An edited transcript of the conversation is published below.

Why is food design worthy of discussion?

The world is experiencing a food crisis; by 2030 the UN predicts that there will be more people on the planet than the world is currently capable of feeding. I believe that designers are incredible components in finding solutions through a human-centred practice. Design has a unique role to play in offering solutions for this coming crisis.

By focusing on the social potential of food, food design is positioned as primarily functional. Is aesthetic therefore redundant or does it still have a role to play?

When discussing food design, the beautiful and desirable aspect of design is equally as important as function. In order for us to find a solution to feeding some 9 billion people, we need to offer solutions that are desirable. Food is something that should be enjoyable. Eating is a ritual that is carried out three times a day for billions of people around the world, and design has the potential to create new rituals which are appropriate for the contemporary world. Design as a practice which offers beautiful, elegant and useful products has a huge role to play in defining how and what we are going to eat in the future. For example, there has been a lot of talk amongst nutritionists about the potential of new foodstuffs – products like algae and insects – and how design will help package this. It is important to consider how to present these alternatives as desirable products as well as exciting products.

It is an interesting move to launch a magazine dedicated exclusively to food design. Is this in recognition of its rising prominence within design? The last few years have seen several universities launch dedicated food design courses.

Absolutely. Between Eindhoven’s Food Non Food programme and a number of smaller courses offered across Europe, the value of food design is becoming increasingly recognised by designers and industry. As a subject, food design is still very much presented as problem solving in a traditional design framework. But, as design education and design itself broadens and starts embracing a more holistic approach across all facets of design, then you’ll see that food design becomes a really fertile ground for designers to be playing in.

Why does MOLD look at the future of food rather than examining food design as it currently stands?

Foodie publications, as well as food culture as a whole, are pretty saturated. We now understand that there is a consumer perspective to food but this is situated amongst metropolitan audiences and tends to be communicated from an urban perspective. It tends to coalesce around certain foods and personalities. This approach misses the point that food is a basic and fundamental right.

The reason that we are interested in the future of food is because, although there is a lot of conversation around sustainability – within a restaurant setting for example, or in local urban agricultural efforts like community farms – but there hasn’t been a comprehensive look at how we might use design to envision what is possible from a holistic systems perspective. Our first issue is about designing for the human microbiome. If we were a more traditional publication we would be interested in fermentation or processes of curing. Those things are really important and we do assess them, but we also talk about synthetic biology and the magic of being in this scientific and technological moment where we can design organisms. It is rare that you get to grapple with those topics side by side but design gives us the perfect opportunity.

Food as a facet of design is interesting in the fact that it has the potential to affect billions of people worldwide. As an essential element of life, too, food design is arguably more relatable to non-design-interested audiences than other areas of design.

Design has been given the short stick by being relegated to a luxury niche. It’s a huge disservice to designers. Our understanding of industrial design emerged from the mid-century and centres upon the philosophy of designing for every person and using the technologies of that particular moment to produce useful, elegant, and functional products that solve problems for people in their everyday lives. As we start to think about products of the future, this egalitarian approach to design is re-emerging. Designers right now have the incredible opportunity to design the world as they wish and see it.

I know that the Design Museum in London is currently showing the exhibition Fear and Love. I love the idea that we are motivated by the two fundamental and opposing emotions of fear and love. If designers approach things from an emotional space where they are really considering what the possibilities could be, it broadens the definition of design and gives it a higher purpose in coming years. Not every designer needs to be a social designer but I do think that every designer needs to consider what their values are. They also need to consider the products that they are creating, and how those products carry that designer’s values into the world.

MOLD has functioned as a website for several years. Why did you feel to need to venture into print? What can a magazine offer that a website is unable to fulfil?

There is a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding about food design and its potential for change. For the last three years we have been examining how food design can make a difference, and throughout that time we’ve been presented with a lot of answers. Print allows us to package some of those answers into an accessible artefact where readers can see all those ideas side by side; connected in a way that isn’t possible in the digital space. This moment in food design is also really urgent. We are seeing so many incredible innovations coming from science, technology and design and I think it is important to capture this specific moment. We are identifying what the problems are right now but also speculating and imagining what the future may look like. The technology and the science is there at our disposal and I think that design is going to be able to distill these ideas in a way that will offer real solutions for people.