My thesis project 'Food for Tomorrow' aims to uncover ways for culinary science to educate us through engagement and reflection. My aim was to create an experience that forms social practices that turn the process of making and eating food more inspiring, without being didactic and prescriptive. Curious Cuisine is a concept that puts a tangible 'face' on cognitive computing that drives our future food decisions.

2016 Spring | UID | 20 weeks


 

Curious Cuisine – bringing culinary creativity home

Food is not just a collection of chemicals —
it has a role in human society that goes way
beyond molecules.
— Marion Nestlé

The concept Curious Cuisine expands a non-professional cook’s toolkit with knowledge on culinary experimentation: pairing ingredients, preparation techniques, and fine-tuning flavours. The concept manifests as an experiment kit, a set of three tangible devices connected to a cloud-based service; they work together in unison to present their know-how to the user, right in the kitchen. Each object has its bespoke intelligence and unique expertise about a different part of the cooking process. The Grocer is knowledgeable about pairing ingredients in a surprising way. The Chef is the master of cooking techniques beyond conventions. The Alchemist unlocks the magic of refining flavours to make the dish more exciting. With the gastronomy information that they draw from the cloud, these devices create a ‘culinary safe zone’ for the hobby cook: the opportunity and confidence to experiment, without overshadowing the cook’s own intuition and preferences.

The concept is based on a vision of augmenting technology in the creative process without replacing humans; of using data respectfully towards the traditions, artistry and craft of making food.
 

Foundational Research

In order to build up an inspiring and informative foundation for my design explorations, I set up a series of research trips to visit food experts. My goal was to interview people with a long-term outlook on the world of food; with enthusiasm towards new developments, and with years of experience navigating the complexities of the food industry:

What are key emergent trends about our food systems and technologies, concerning skills, aesthetics and rituals? How do they expect our habits to change as technology enters the food space?

I chose six insights with the highest relevance: Social values, Nutrition, Experimentation, Creative process, Perfect food, Storytelling:

 

Concept prototyping

Many of the design decisions behind the concept’s interactions were inspired by and adapted based on user testing. The user test involved a cognitive walkthrough with 5 people of various design backgrounds, and it meant to probe on the discoverability of gestural and audio interfaces. Each object was represented with an interactive behaviour prototype created in Framer.js, and a form mockup made of wood.

In the process of user testing, it became clear that a conversational interface might lead the user to mistake the system for a multi-functional cognitive system: a computational polymath. In order to clearly communicate the limitations of the system’s intelligence, the devices have a discrete task division, and a specific tone of voice designed to suggest that their know-how is not entirely human-like.
As computational complexity increases, rather than hiding its presence and functionality, it can be embodied in the physical world, where humans feel most at home. In the specific case of cooking and eating, physicality becomes even more crucial; my goal was to prove that data-driven technologies don’t have to be separated and disjointed from the context of use.
 

Downloads

You can access my thesis report here.