Pleasuring your Palate

Design Products students have participated in ‘Pleasuring your Palate’, a day-long workshop at Borough Market, led by guest tutor David Bordow. The workshop used human-centred design principles to cater to individual needs and experiences, challenging the 12 participants’ understanding of food and expanding their approaches to cooking.

At the start of the day each participant was given money to spend in the market on the ingredients they were most drawn to and inspired by. The participants came from eight different countries; therefore their selection of food was influenced by personal knowledge of various cuisines and diverse cultural attitudes to food. Back in the Borough Market Cookhouse, guided by Bordow, the participants worked on new recipes from scratch using their chosen ingredients to create a meal collaboratively.

Bordow is a California-based product designer, engineer and cook. Prior to the workshop at Borough Market, he delivered a workshop at the College, exploring food in the same way any material can be approached in the design process. With a background in mechanical engineering, Bordow’s experience with food includes starting a catering company in Los Angeles, working with the Rome Sustainable Food Project at the American Academy in Rome and cooking at the renowned Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Currently, he is a Shop Teaching Assistant in Stanford‘s Product Realization Lab, where he is developing ways of using cooking to address physical and experiential design challenges.

‘Pleasuring your Palate’ emboldened participants with a standardised set of cooking skills, with which to approach creating cohesive and well-designed meals. Bordow’s approach embraces flexibility and treats food as a material with qualities that can be augmented through careful treatment and experimentation. This sensitive approach is suited to cooking with seasonal produce and making the most of available ingredients.

The workshop participants were encouraged to assess familiar recipes for their chosen ingredients, breaking them down into the most basic components used to flavour food: salt, fat and acidity. One student selected white asparagus, for which hollandaise source is a traditional accompaniment. They created instead a deconstructed version of this recipe – consisting of a citrus butter and poached eggs served on top the asparagus. The workshop aimed to transform perceptions of food as a source of fuel to an exciting design challenge. Inversely, the design techniques and processes learned in the kitchen can also be reflected back onto approaches to any design challenge.

‘Pleasuring your Palate’ took place in cooperation with Stanford‘s Product Realization Lab as part of ‘Open Food’, a wider research project within Design Products. This research, carried out in partnership with Brunel University and the University of Nottingham, is exploring food as a means to work through design processes and challenges. The focus of the research is on cake-making as a process through which to build digital tools for food and packaging co-creation.

Jonathan Edelman, Design Products senior tutor, explained: ‘In terms of open design and open innovation, the creation of food is a great way to receive instant feedback on prototypes. You are constantly testing and receiving responses to ideas.’ Key to the ‘Open Food’ research are the principles of resilience, flexibility and nous, which can all be seen to have played a part in the one-day ‘Pleasuring your Palate’ workshop. Edelman expanded these concepts as ‘a sensitivity for material or towards a design challenge, the ability to make adjustments and an attentiveness to results and outcomes. The workshop can be seen as a model for the persistence needed to make things work, a resilience that is needed for successful entrepreneurship.’

The research and learning outcomes of the ‘Pleasuring your Palate’ workshop will feed into the continuing research for ‘Open Food’. However, perhaps the best result of the workshop was the delicious, healthy meal and tangible enjoyment and pleasure of all the participants. Embodying the core aim of Design Products at the RCA: creativity for purpose.


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Crossing Over

Crossing Over , the Royal College of Art-hosted public, one-day symposium with University of Oxford, explored the crossovers between knowledge in art and science that occur in multisensory perception.

Research staff and students from the RCA and the University of Oxford have a common interest current and future approaches to multisensory perception. With three speakers from each institution presenting their work, with multisensory activities accompanying each presentation, the day offered fresh insights into the way the senses and human brain work, as well as providing practical examples of how this research can be put to use within a design context.

The event was part of a research initiative conceived and organised by research staff and students from Design Products and Innovation Design Engineering, in collaboration with the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford. The event builds on Super Feelers, a 2014 collaborative exploration with the Crossmodal Research Laboratory, also hosted by the RCA.

Bruna Petreca, Design Products PhD candidate, opened the event by challenging the accepted binary positions established by the fields of art and science. She explained that throughout the day speakers would focus on the ‘&’ as the crossing over point between art and science. Bruna also read ‘Two metaphysical animals’ from Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings(1967), raising important themes explored throughout the day.

Paris Selinas, a research associate in Design Products, presented his research into the way that people experience and reflect on flavour, within the context of human-computer interaction. His approach considered three types of human expression: verbal or written language, visual representation and embodiment. In addition to his presentation, Paris ran an interactive activity, which showcased the principles of embodied interaction to communicate a desired flavour over distance.

‘The most important thing, as the title suggests, was the crossing over; our talks focused on the overlap between science and design, showing that they are not opposite, but rather complimentary approaches, where the one can inform and inspire the other’ explained Paris who organised the event with Chang Hee Lee. ‘There is great potential in further exploring these synergies. At Design Products we have developed a food design project, where first-year students creatively use the scientific insights on multisensory perception to address problems relating to eating. Oxford’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory is also involved, and we are all looking forward to the tangible outcomes of this ongoing collaboration.’

At the symposium Innovation Design Engineering PhD candidate Chang Hee Lee presented his research into synaesthesia. Chang’s research has identified three key properties of synaesthesia that are applicable in a design context, and he has created design artefacts to explore potential uses for each. These properties are: translation, for example the association of a colour with a place; narrative, as a way of sharing personal experiences; and creativity, which explores the creative potential of synaesthesia in a design context.

DPhil Candidate in Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford Matt Tompkins explored the science of perception, visual attention and awareness. Matt described the human perception of light, as well as the role our brains play in producing continuous vision by compensating for blind spots, blinks, saccades (rapid movements of the eye) and out of focus areas.

A professional illusionist, Matt added tricks and optical illusions to explain these theories to the audience. Using playing cards, Matt explained the change blindness phenomenon, where a focus on one element within our field of vision has a consequent effect of causing us to ignore other elements. Using the Kanitza triangle, Matt extended the illusory contours phenomenon and ended his talk by demonstrating how we can manipulate the mind to create false memories.

A scientist, turned-musician, turned-psychologist, Clea Desebrock’s multidisciplinary interests were reflected in her talk. Clea, also a DPhil candidate in Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, discussed hearing and its relationship to product preference. Starting with audio and vision, Clea presented the Mcgurk effect, an illusion that occurs when the auditory component of one sound is paired with the visual component of another, creating the illusion of a third sound. Clea summarised her talk with two reflections: first, that integrated sensory inputs are richer experiences than the linear sum of their individual parts, and second, that the integration of inputs from different senses can enhance quality of life.

The final contribution to the symposium came from Alejandro Salgado Montejo, a University of Oxford DPhil student who is currently exploring the relationship between taste and other senses: vision, sound and to a lesser extent, touch. Alejandro explained that understanding how our senses work enables us to ‘hack’ them. For example a playlist can be created not only to enjoy with a meal, but also to influence how we perceive its flavour. With a quick activity Alejandro showed how tactile feedback from other stimuli, such as rubbing a piece of Velcro, can affect the taste perception of wine.

This post was originally posted here