A Taste of the Food & Eating Design Lab

How our society deals with food is of crucial importance. Many societal challenges can be traced back to our relationship with food and eating. “From agricultural production and food waste to growing obesity and diabetes problems. Even mental health can be related to food.” Rick Schifferstein is director of the Food & Eating Design Lab at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering. Here, researchers, students and companies aim to improve people’s interaction with their daily food and provide solutions that promote people’s health and wellbeing.

Text: Marc de Kool | Illustrations: Meike Huisman

“Take a very personal issue like eating comfort food in times of stress for instance. How do negative emotions influence eating behavior? And how could a design-intervention help people deal with this? Graduation student Leonie Houwen came up with packaging solutions for chocolate bars. By changing the way you unwrap your chocolate, in a piece-by-piece manner instead of a whole bar at once, you stimulate conscious decision making. Every time you unwrap the bar, you can eat a small piece, but an unwrapped bar remains. This makes stopping easier and you don’t need to feel guilty of finishing all the chocolate"

The Food & Eating Design Lab believes design can play a crucial role in solving many kinds of societal problems. A design approach widens the scope of projects beyond the physical food products themselves. From agricultural production and food packaging to marketing and eating rituals. Designers can play a crucial role in food innovation by structuring and facilitating cooperation between disciplinary experts. In addition, designers often shape tools that engage everyone in the process. The designer can, thereby, take over the chef’s role in integrating all information to develop a successful food innovation including the chef’s solutions at the recipe level.

“A future project that we would love to focus on would be a close cooperation with psychologists. They have developed models for behavioral changes through interventions. I think we could achieve a better success rate for interventions that try to tackle obesity and related chronic diseases like diabetes. We want to continue taking on challenges that can have an impact on a larger scale, so we’ll need insights into psychological mechanisms behind challenges on a societal level.”

The current slate of graduation projects of the Food & Eating Design Lab also includes cooperation with several companies. A look at the supermarket of the future in collaboration with Albert Heijn, for instance, or research into kitchen design with Gaggenau.

The Lab emphasizes cooperation. “We’re very keen on being open. We organise Food Lab Meetings where people pitch research ideas, update everyone on their process, show prototypes and provide each other with feedback. Bachelor, Master and PhD students of all levels play a crucial role.”, says Rick. “They can come in and present their ideas and questions.” The Lab is currently involved in the MSc course Context & Conceptualisation and the elective course Food & Eating Design. They also support Honours Programme projects:

“Honours student Charlotte de Wit recently came to us with the intention to reduce meat production. She noticed that sometimes products are sold under a specific name (e.g., black berry juice) while they largely consist of other ingredients (apple juice) and wondered whether she could also use this to develop meat products that contain less meat. In this way, meat eaters can continue consuming meat, while at the same time decreasing their consumption of animal products. While we increase our efforts to include industry, I think it’s vital for us to continue being a fertile ground for these kinds of initiatives.”