Created with Sketch.

Even though designers are specifically trained to create and build new products, their contribution to innovation in the food industry is relatively small. The industry seems unfamiliar with the ways in which designers operate and may be unaware of the added value they may provide. Therefore, this article identifies the potential roles that designers could fulfil within large food companies. The development of new consumer products requires knowledge of target consumers, production technology and the business environment. These three types of expertise are often concentrated in different departments. Although highly experienced product experts such as culinary chefs may be able to integrate this knowledge, involving designers may be a more fruitful strategy. First of all, designers tend to approach design challenges holistically, which broadens the scope of the project. As a consequence, designers will provide more innovative solutions, which can guide multiple project aspects simultaneously (production, packaging, marketing). Second, designers shape their own tools, which will engage the others involved. Third, designers are equipped to manage the product development process and can facilitate cooperation between the disciplinary experts. Fourth, designers can play a role in bringing together and integrating the knowledge from the different disciplines. By strengthening these roles, large food companies can deliver innovations that address actual consumer needs, provide a positive contribution to society and consolidate long-term profitability and growth.

For designers, foods represent interesting prototyping materials, which are firmly rooted in daily, cultural practices and can be enjoyed through all the senses. Their regional, seasonal and perishable character challenges designers to connect consumers with agriculture, trading and processing methods.

Download publication

Designers can play a significant role in providing the world population with food that is produced in a sustainable way, is tasty and healthy and can form the centrepiece in culinary experiences. However, design students will need to acquire more knowledge specific for the food domain if they want to qualify as cooperation partners for other food professionals. In addition, because the food domain is vast and diverse, food design education could focus on various application domains, resulting in design students with different profiles.

In this article, I make a distinction between designing for a person who consumes food at home or is eating out. The first case emphasizes the food itself in the home situation, including food production, packaging, food buying, shelf life, preparation, serving, handling leftovers and waste disposal. In the second case, the consumer’s meal experience depends on the atmosphere in the restaurant, interactions with serving staff, the offerings on the menu and quality of the dish. In addition, several processes take place outside the consumer’s view, such as food preparation, storage, personnel management and business administration.

Based on these topics and comparison with adjoining educational curricula, a list of training topics is derived. For all food designers, this consists of general design capabilities, food science, cooking skills, consumer insights and sustainability issues. In addition, the ‘eating at home’ designer should gather knowledge on agricultural production, food technology and food industry business, whereas the ‘eating out’ designer will need to focus mainly on food product knowledge, culinary technology, equipment engineering, restaurant design, consumer dining behaviour and hospitality business.

Download publication

The color of the background on which products are presented may affect their perceived attractiveness. We presented five different vegetables (tomato, carrot, yellow bell pepper, cucumber, eggplant) on four different background colors (orange or blue, either light or dark). Although the backgrounds did not affect the direct color perception of the vegetables, they did affect their perceived attractiveness, with quite different backgrounds proving optimal for the various vegetables. These outcomes suggest that it is difficult to find non-neutral background colors on which a large number of vegetables can be presented in an optimal way.

Download publication

Methods originally developed for the sensory evaluation of foods are increasingly being applied to other product categories, ranging from personal care products to car interiors and air conditioning units. Furthermore, because an increasing number of food products tend to be available in packages from which they can be consumed directly, the sensory properties of packages have become an integral part of consumers’ food experiences and require thorough investigation. In addition, food consumption in everyday life takes place within a physical, social, and cultural context. This asks for a reconsideration of the role of sensory analysis in the product development process. To seduce consumers in highly saturated markets, products should not only provide good quality and be appealing, but they should offer interesting and engaging experiences. Therefore, research on sensory evaluation needs to be linked to research on product aesthetics, product meaning, and product emotions. Capturing the entire consumer experience requires an integral approach, in which research approaches from various academic fields are combined and integrated. For this approach to succeed in industrial companies, many different departments will need to work together in close cooperation.

Download publication

Fluid food products are always consumed from a container: a package, a cup, a bowl, and so on. The properties of this container may affect how the food is experienced. In the present study, we develop a method to study the effects of container properties on the experience of drinking beverages. Participants either evaluated empty cups made from different materials, or they evaluated the experience of drinking hot tea or a chilled softdrink from these cups. In all three conditions, the same set of attributes was used. The results suggest that for many attributes the drinking experience followed the experience of the cups. However, some deviations were also evident. Ratings on the cold-warm item increased when hot tea was consumed from some of the cups, probably related to the increase of the outside temperature of the cup. Differences between conditions for other items (e.g., robust-fragile, strong-weak), however, do not seem to be related to physical changes of the cup and may have a semantic or emotional origin.

Download publication

During the various stages of user–product interactions, different sensory modalities may be important and different emotional responses may be elicited. We investigated how a dehydrated food product was experienced at different stages of product usage: choosing a product on a supermarket shelf, opening a package, cooking and eating the food. At the buying stage, vision was the most important modality, followed by taste. Smell was dominant at the cooking stage, and taste was the most important sensation while eating the food. Analysis of the emotional dynamics showed that ratings for satisfaction and pleasant surprise tended to be lowest during the buying stages. Fascination and boredom ratings tended to decrease gradually over the course of the experiment. Comments mostly reflected responses to sensory qualities, usability aspects, and the nature of the product. At the purchase stage, pre-existing attitudes and stereotypes towards the product group seemed to play a major role in affective reactions, while in the other stages when other modalities were actively involved, participants’ emotional judgements reflected mainly their direct sensory experience.

Download publication

This study examines the influence of packaging design on taste impressions. Building forth on research addressing transfer effects of symbolic associations from one sense to another, in this study it was studied if, and to what extent, potency-related associations portrayed by shape curvature and color saturation of yoghurt packages transfer to subsequent taste experiences. Furthermore, the influence of participants’ sensitivity to design was taken into account. Data were collected during a field study in the entrance hall of a large supermarket. Results indicate that associations portrayed by shape curvature in particular transfer to taste experiences, but that these effects are most pronounced for participants with a sensitivity to design. In addition, the findings presented indicate that shape curvature and color saturation may impact more general product evaluations and price expectations as well.

Download publication

Emotions experienced by healthy individuals in response to tasting or eating food were examined in two studies. In the first study, 42 participants reported the frequency with which 22 emotion types were experienced in everyday interactions with food products, and the conditions that elicited these emotions. In the second study, 124 participants reported the extent to which they experienced each emotion type during sample tasting tests for sweet bakery snacks, savoury snacks, and pasta meals. Although all emotions occurred from time to time in response to eating or tasting food, pleasant emotions were reported more often than unpleasant ones. Satisfaction, enjoyment, and desire were experienced most often, and sadness, anger, and jealousy least often. Participants reported a wide variety of eliciting conditions, including statements that referred directly to sensory properties and experienced consequences, and statements that referred to more indirect conditions, such as expectations and associations. Five different sources of food emotions are proposed to represent the various reported eliciting conditions: sensory attributes, experienced consequences, anticipated consequences, personal or cultural meanings, and actions of associated agents.

Download publication