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The Kitchen Table as a Slow Design for Family Connectivity and Communication an exploration into the positive benefits of meal time using the theories of critical design, slow design and action research

LeeAndra Cianci

0 0 The Kitchen Table as a Slow Design for Family Connectivity and Communication

an exploration into the positive benefits of meal time using the theories of critical design, slow design and action research


This is a thesis document presented to The School of Graduate Studies Nova Scotia College of Art and Design by LeeAndra Cianci In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Design

Copyright Š 2012 LeeAndra Cianci All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical review or articles. Book Design and Chapter Illustrations by LeeAndra Cianci Typeface: Gibson & Archer Icon Font: Liebe Cook & Liebe Meal The images within this document were taken from a variety of sources noted in the List of Figures. NSCAD University Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada April 2012

Acknowledgements Thank you to Marlene Ivey, Christopher Kaltenbach, Rudi Meyer, and Michael LeBlanc for their guidance and encouragement throughout this year. I would also like to thank my classmates for being a continual source of inspiration and support. Thank you to my parents, Judi and Nick, for supporting my academic adventure to Halifax! I could not have gotten through it without your love, patience and comfort. Thank you to Pete, it must have been an interesting year living with a crazy person, thanks for all the dinners.



Contents Abstract — Appena un Gusto — just a taste 10 Introduction — Antipasto — before the meal 12 Theoretical Framework — Tutti a Tavola — all to the table 24 Outline of Inquiry — Preparazione del Pasto — preparing the meal 36 Methodologies 38 Methods 42 Design Iterations & Analysis — Primo — first course 50 Design Outcomes — Secondo — ­ second course 74 Conclusion ­— Dolce — dessert


Bibliography — Ripulire — clean up 88 Appendices Appendix A Appendix B Appendix C

92 96 98


List of Figures 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Cianci Family Dinner 10 Thesis Abstract Visualization 11 Multitasking Visualization 15 Communication/Screen Evolution/Progression Abstract Visualization 16 “La Cucina Futurista” © The Academia Barilla Gastronomic Library 16 “TV dinner 1” © adrigu, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license: “Swanson TV Dinners, 1950s”© 2006 Bayswater97 flikr photostream “1952 TV Dinner” n.d. found on (original source unknown) 19 “Texting” © Jhaymesiviphotography used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 21 “Dinner Time for Family”© Phil and Pam used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 21 “Clues hidden everywhere” © 2011 ‘Collette Deschenes’ on the Slow Motion Food Film Fest Facebook page “Chives Canadian Bistro dishes up Curried Indian Point Mussel Ragout on Tea Biscuit.” & “Upcoming Festival info being handed out!” © 2011 the Slow Motion Food Film Fest Facebook Page 27 “slowMail” © n.d. 28 “Marije Vogelzang - Pop! Tech 2009 - Camden ME” © 2009 kk+ used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 30 “The Spread” © 2009 Nick Sherman used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: 30 Eating Design 30 “Proef Amsterdam”© 2010 LYNfabrikken flikr photostream 30 “Basics and Accessories” © n.d. Marije Vogelzang 31 “F.R.U.I.T Network” © 2009 Futurefarmers & 33 “70 x 7 The Meal act XXIV” © 2006 Lucy & Jorge Orta 33 “70 x 7 The Meal act VIII ” © 2001 Lucy & Jorge Orta 33 “70 x 7 The Meal act XXXII” © 2011 Lucy & Jorge Orta 33 Action Research & the design process 39 “Augmented Digestive System and Tree Processor” © Dunne & Raby 40 Thesis Project Brainstorming / Mind Mapping 42 Future Dinner rough concept sketches 43


24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50

Abstract Thesis Structure 44 The Kitchen Table as Creative Space filled out Questionnaires 45 Meal-Time Memories a creative investigation Probe Pack 46 The Kitchen Table as Creative Space Invitation and Dynamic Dining Experience 47 Future Dinner physical and digital models 53 Responsive Recipes logo 55 Stage one: COOKING 56 Stage two: EATING 57 Stage three: RECORDING 57 The Kitchen Table as Creative Space instructions 59 The Kitchen Table as Creative Space table set up 60 Questionnaire and Data Visualization 61 Participants creating Meal-Time Memories 63 Finished Meal-Time Memory Creations 63 Probe Pack bag 65 Probe Pack papers 65 Probe Pack questionnaire booklet 67 Probe Pack visual identity 68 Flash Card Connections 70-71 Charting Connections at the Table diagram 77 Charting Connections at the Table B&W plate designs 78 Charting Connections at the Table circular plate designs 79 Charting Connections at the Table concept visualization 80-81 Charting Connections at the Table... Table! 82 Charting Connections at the Table floor connections 83 Charting Connections at the Table future dinner station 84 Charting Connections at the Table results! 85

* All figures without a specified copyright are Š 2011/12 L. Cianci




Appena un Gusto — ‘just a taste’ The importance of eating meals together and the dynamic of the kitchen/dining table within our everyday lives is something that seems to have been lost. A lack of human connection and communication is a growing issue within our contemporary, technologically driven lives. The speed of screen-culture is actually isolating us from one another—meal time could be one possible solution to this problem. The Slow Food movement has been looking at this issue for many years from the point of view of sustainable food production and consumption. The slow design movement has taken the same principles of the Slow Food movement and applied them to design production. Marije Vogelzang—a self titled ‘eating-designer’—is the preeminent designer working with the concepts of both of these movements. Through Action Research, Critical Design and Slow Design this thesis will explore these ideas. This thesis will illuminate the important need to create more personal and connected relationships through meal time. Key Words: slow food, slow design, eating-design, action research, critical design, personal connections, meal time, kitchen table

Fig. 1 Cianci Family Meal


Fig. 2 Thesis Abstract Visualization




Antipasto ‘before the meal ‘



A Lack of Connection

the problem with ‘fast’

Charles Dickens The most notable book written by Charles Dickens about the Industrial Revolution was titled Hard Times from 1854. He was criticized for his post-Industrial Revolution pessimism regarding the divide between Capitalist mill owners and undervalued workers during the Victorian era.

Le Corbusier A Swiss-born French architect, designer, urbanist, writer and painter, famous for being one of the pioneers of what now is called modern architecture. In the book Le Corbusier and the Continual Revolution in Architecture he stated that a modern city was a city built for speed.

Dromology Coined by Paul Virilio, it means the ‘science (or logic) of speed’. Dromology is important when considering the structuring of society in relation to warfare and modern media.

The above information has been adapted from Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.

The inherent speed of contemporary life has long been connected with ‘being modern’. We see this as far back as the industrial revolution in books by Charles Dickens; in the early 20th century art and manifestos by Marinetti and the Futurists; and in the mid 20th century architecture and writing of Le Corbusier. Though some of these sources embrace speed—e.g. the Futurists—through their work we can begin to understand that throughout history ‘speed’ has inherently been associated with ‘progress’. It has been an issue that is not just about quantitative measures but also about qualitative measures. Meaning how it effects our relationships, emotions and overall well being. What we should think about in contemporary life today is how our hectic, everyday, digitally centered lives may actually be disengaging us from the natural world and from the people around us. In theories of ‘dromology’, Paul Virilio points out that the analogue world is a lot more human and natural than the digital world (Davies & Parrinder, 2010, p. 153). To re-engage with this natural world, what we need to do is slow down by promoting more thoughtful, human-centred, ‘analogue’ engagement. In contemporary society many people feel that the amount of personal connection is rapidly decreasing. In the article “slow-times/ the slow fast”, Colin Davies and Monika Parrinder (2010) the authors of Limited Language: rewriting design state that, “being modern has long been associated with speed... The instancy of digital, screen-based time changes the way we experience the world”(p. 153). Their description of the modern world in relationship to ‘being fast’ has been a common concern among not only designers but also philosophers, sociologists and academics. Even though we live in a time where people are very connected digitally, screen-culture is actually isolating us from one another. The designers at the non-for profit slowLab, created by designer Carolyn Strauss (n.d.), describe this problem by stating that, “daily life has become a cacophony of experiences that disable our senses [and] disconnect us from one another” (para. 1). This description highlights the fact that since we are now so spatially mobile through the Web, we sometimes may miss what is right in front of us—a real human connection. David Levy (2008), a professor of Information Technology at the University of Washington, addressed this problem in a Google lecture titled “No Time to Think”. He believes that in general, people of the world today need some sort of encouragement to take the time to think and slow down (Levy, 2008). He considers that as technology continues to accelerate and people’s lives continue to get busier and faster, we risk losing the time to reflect, focus and truly connect with people. Levy (2008) identifies that, “what historians and social scientists have pointed out is that this acceleration that we are experiencing today is not new, that it has been going on for the last couple of hundred years” (20:37). He points out three key moments in history that best illustrate this point. First, in the early 19th century there was a major introduction of new technologies, the most prominent being that of the steam engine­—this allowed for mining, manufacturing, and distribution

Multitasking Media multitasking involves using TV, the Web, radio, telephone, print, or any other media in conjunction with another. Also referred to as “simultaneous media use,� this behavior has emerged as increasingly common, especially among younger media users. Some might argue that multitasking is in fact extremely unproductive and overwhelming (see Fig. 3).

The above information has been adapted from Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.



Fig. 3 Multitasking Visualization This visualization tracked media multi tasking over the span of one hour. The red lines around the circle indicate the emotional state being experience throughout the hour (described from top to bottom on the legend): calm, focused, distracted and stressed.





Futurism An artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in the early 20th century. It glorified themes associated with contemporary concepts of the future, including speed, technology, youth and violence, and objects such as the car and the airplane. Filippo Marinetti was the founder of the Futurist movement and wrote the Futurist Manifesto in 1909 which proclaimed a rejection of the past, and advocated the modernisation of Italy. Fig. 5 The original Futurist Cookbook (in Italian)

Fig. 4 Communication/Screen Evolution/Progression Abstract Visualization (read top to bottom)


The Futurist Cookbook The Futurists actually created a cookbook (see Fig. 5) in 1932 that, “denounced [pasta] as a pathetic Italian addiction to nostalgia and tradition” (Perrottet, n.d. para.1). Marinetti’s Futurist meals left nutrition and taste completely out of the recipes. They combined the radical use of color, shape, music, lighting, and ideas to create a menu. By attempting to create an entirely ‘modern’ Italian diet the Futurists were once again rebelling against Italian cultural and historical traditions. It is one example where the speed of modernity literally attempted to suppress the positive effects of a traditional family meal.

through use of the railroad. Following this, in the late 19th century, people began to realize that they couldn’t keep up with the production and demand—which led to a ‘control crisis’. The solution to this crisis was the rise of the modern corporation, which brought us things like job hierarchy and the typewriter. In the 1920’s, since production had gotten so fast and efficient, there were ‘more products than people would even want or need’ which brought us the need to stimulate people to buy more—the beginning of advertising (Levy, 2008). “Information crisis” is what Levy calls the current issue at hand, he asks: how much faster can we go, and what is the solution (see Fig. 4)? Linda Leung and Daisy Tam (2008) talk about technology in a similar way to Levy in the essay “The Art of ‘Slow’: Taking Time in the Digital Age”. They focus on interactive web design experiences in comparison to fast food experiences: A slow experience is not defined in quantitative terms, that is, how long we spend eating or surfing the web, but instead must be qualitatively understood... Indeed, it is about the quality rather than the amount of time, and it is this ‘quality time’ that is arguably missing from our everyday online interactions because they have not been designed with this in mind.” (Leung & Tam, 2008, p. 53). Janet A. Flammang (2009), a professor of Political Science at Santa Clara University, points out how, ‘the convenience of electronic communication has increased the quantity of our social interactions, especially outside of our immediate homes and neighborhoods’ (p. 87). This statement highlights that although we may actually be communicating with more people through digital means, in reality (as in face-to-face) we are actually connecting with less, and with less quality (see appendix A for a data visualization illustrating this). Flammang (2009) reiterates this statement by stating that the ‘art of conversation in North America seems to have been lost due to the convenience of electronic communication’ (p. 87). The realization that there is a problem with ‘fast’ led to the search for a solution that could help us—as a society­—to slow down.

The above information has been adapted from Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.



Meal Time Memories

how can we slow down?

TV dinners Currently also known as a frozen dinner or microwave meal, is a prepackaged frozen meal that most often comes in individual portions. It requires very little preparation and contains all the elements for a single-serving meal. The original ‘TV Dinner’ was made in 1953 by Swanson & Sons (Fig.6) it came in an aluminum tray and was heated in an oven. Most frozen dinner trays today are made of microwaveable material, usually plastic. Sherrie A. Inness (2006) expresses the connection between TV dinners and ‘modernity’ well in her book Secret Ingredients: Race, Gender, and Class at the Dinner Table by saying that, “whether expressed as a corvette or a TV dinner, the modern age was about speed and efficiency” (p. 25).

Gourmandism* Brillat-Savarian described gourmandim as ‘an impassioned, considered, and habitual preference for whatever pleases the taste’—not to be confused with gluttony—it is ‘the enemy of over indulgence’ and more about food appreciation (2011, p. 155). Some of the above information has been adapted from Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.

The importance of eating meals together and the dynamic of the kitchen table in our everyday lives is something that could be seen as a solution to the problems addressed in the previous section. Avi Friedman (2005)—an architect who wrote Room for Thought: Rethinking Home and Community—talks about the loss of the family meal by saying that, “setting up the table, carrying the food there, taking time to discuss the day’s events, cleaning up, and moving to the living room for coffee and dessert while listening to music... seems like an evening from a long-gone era” (p. 26). By understanding that the meaning of ‘meal time’ has changed, we are able to see the potential that exists in bringing the ritual back into our day to day lives. Flammang (2009) believes that, “mealtime rituals and family stories are important antidotes to the generational segregation of geographically mobile Americans” (p. 116). By encouraging this, people may take the time to reflect and connect that many people believe has been lost in contemporary society. Nostalgic and idealized memories of eating at the kitchen table with family can bring an immediate feeling of warmth and togetherness to many people. Food rituals “bring generations together, counteract the isolation of screen culture, bring pleasure, sharing, thoughtfulness, companionship, and rituals of nutrition and conviviality” (Flammang, 2009, p.124). Even back in 1825, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarian­—a French lawyer and politician who gained fame as a ‘gastronome’— knew and voiced the importance of enjoying a meal with friends and family in his book The Physiology of Taste: or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy (translated in 1949 by food writer and critic M.F.K. Fisher). Brillat-Savarian stated that “Gourmandism* is one of the most important influences on our social life; it gradually spreads that spirit of conviviality which brings together from day to day differing kinds of people, melts them into a whole, animates their conversation, and softens the sharp corners of the conventional inequalities of position and breeding” (2011, p. 160). All of these positive side effects of eating together can still be true today, if we make time for them. Author David E. Sutton (2001) of Remembrance of Repasts: an anthropology of food and memory worries that, “these sorts of food based memories [are] under threat by TVs, VCRS [now iPads and DVRs] and the forces of modernity” (p.60). As Brillat-Savarian stated, “The way in which meals are enjoyed is very important to the happiness of life”(2011, p. 161). As screen culture has steadily advanced we have also been drifting further and further away from the dinner table changing the way that we ‘enjoy a meal’. The TV dinner is a prime example of this in the 1950’s (Fig. 6) and in present day it seems as though even if you do have a family dinner there are still going to be smart phones in everyone’s periphery (Fig. 8).


Fig. 6 (clockwise from top) a frozen dinner, a Swanson advertisement and a photo captured in 1952 of people eating a TV dinner.


Texting at dinner Ever since texting became the most convenient way to communicate, the etiquette associated with it has been debated. Texting while eating has become a major issue among couples in counseling (see Fig. 8), and it seems the men are the ones who can’t sit down for dinner for without checking their phones. The reverse is true among teenagers, where the girls are the non-stop texters (see Fig. 7) (Rimer, 2009).


Researchers Eleanor Ochs and Caroline Taylor (1992) found that ‘dinner is a social, linguistic, cognitive event’ and that ‘talking is as important as eating’ (p. 29). Dr. Post Senning (2009), the Author of Emily Post’s Table Manners for Kids, reiterates this idea in regards to more current culture and believes that there should be no texting at dinner, she states that “the family meal is a social event, not just a food ingestion event” (Rimer, 2009, para. 9). The concept that meal time is a ‘social event’ is completely lost when everyone is preoccupied with their digital attachments. Reflecting on the lost art of conversation in North America as well as taking into consideration that conversation is as important as the eating, is crucial when trying to understand and evaluate the dynamics and importance of meal time. The experiential setting of the kitchen table is also an important element when trying to forge personal connections. Margaret Visser (1991), a classics professor at York University and author of The Rituals of Dinner: the Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities and Meaning of Table Manners feels that, “the table is felt actually to aid the conversation: moving away to the ‘withdrawing’ room would mean a break in the togetherness achieved during dinner... The table is something to lean out, to gesture over; it expresses what everyone has in common” (p. 266-71). In Contemporary culture the kitchen table often multi purposes as an office space or homework area, and meals are often eaten in front of the television. Brillat-Savarian believed that, “the pleasures of the table are a reflective sensation which is born from the various circumstances of place, time, things, and people who make up the surroundings of the meal” (2011, p 189). This means that the table itself—as an object and place—is key in this solution. There have been many findings that eating meals as a family or community can impact eating habits in adolescents for the rest of their lives. It has an effect on the current epidemic of childhood obesity, “children who watched more television and ate fewer family meals were more likely to be persistently overweight throughout their lives” (PubMed, 2007, Results section, para. 1 ). It also has had an effect on the likelihood of young women developing eating disorders; teen girls that ate one meal a day with their family throughout the week were one-third less likely to exhibit abnormal eating habits such as extreme dieting and bulimia (Eisenberg, Fulkerson, Larson, Neumark-Sztainer & Story, 2008, Results section). Family meals not only effect eating habits but also behavioral issues in adolescents, “in a 2001 study it was found that family meals were the strongest predictor of behavior problems in children” (Acock, Bengtson, Dilworth-Anderson & Klein, 2005, p.247). It has also been found that “children who grow up in families that regularly eat meals together seemed less at risk for dangerous behaviors such as smoking, drug and alcohol use” (Cheung, 2009, para, 1). All of this research emphasizes the importance of eating meals together, for both our mental well-being as well as our physical health.


Fig. 7 A young woman texting.

Fig. 8 A couple during meal time, the husband is texting while the wife is on the computer.

Meal Time and Marriage Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarian stated that, “a married couple who enjoy the pleasures of the table have, at least once a day, a pleasant opportunity to be together” (2011, p. 161). BrillatSavarian as well as many other food writers throughout history believed that happiness at the dinner table equated to marital bliss. As quoted by M.F.K. Fisher, in his 1943 book, The Bed-Book of Eating and Drinking, Richard-

son Wright stated that, “the first sign of marital trouble is when a man or a woman finds it distasteful to face each other at the table... I am convinced that a man and wife with congenial appetites and a knowledge of foods and cooking have the basis for lasting happiness” (2011, p. 63). Perhaps this means that there is a correlation between the decline in family meal time and the rise in divorce rates!



Introduction Summary The word ‘modern’ has long been associated with ‘being fast’. In contemporary life, we need to think about how our hectic, everyday, digitally centered lives may actually be disengaging us from the people around us. David Levy calls the current issue of ‘speed’ and disconnection within society the “Information Crisis” and asks, ‘how much faster can we go, and what is the solution’? The importance of eating meals together and the dynamic of the kitchen table can be seen as a possible solution to these issues. As screen-culture has steadily advanced we have also been drifting further and further away from the dinner table. Conversation is as important as eating. The experiential setting of the kitchen table as an object is an important element to consider when trying to forge personal connections during meal time. Eating meals together can positively impact behavioral as well as physical habits in children and adolescents for the rest of their lives. How can design function within this realm? Are any designers already addressing these issues? Who else is interested?


Theoretical Framework


Tutti a Tavola! ‘all to the table! ‘


Theoretical Framework

Slow Movements

food and design

Slow Design Provides a space to think, react, dream and muse. Believes in local first, global second. Provides socio-cultural benefits and well being. Encourages self-initiated design. Catalyzes behavioral change and socio-cultural transformation.

‘Slow’ links: Slow Planet slowLab Slow Food Slow City Slow Design Slow Down London

The ‘Slow Food’ movement in Italy—which is now in its third decade—is an established global movement with an official manifesto and about 85,000 members in over 100 countries (including Atlantic Canada, see Fig. 9) (Green, 2008, para. 4). The Slow Food movement is an extremely appropriate model to use when looking at meal time as a possible solution to the loss of personal connectivity within our contemporary culture. To sit down and enjoy a meal with family and friends is one of these ‘slow’ moments in life that we should not want to speed by. Penelope Green (2008) of the New York Times described the Slow Food movement as emphasizing ‘slowness in the creation and consumption of products as a corrective to the frenetic pace of 21st century life’ (para. 3). Many people have misunderstood the slow-food movement as simply being an anti fast food protest, but as stated by Green it is actually a ‘corrective’ to much more that. Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement, suggests that “fast food is a sign of the more negative effects of the modern market—a world in which speed, or ‘dromocentrism’, as well as placelessness, is the essence of the era” (as cited in Leitch, 2008, p. 393). Daniel Miller, an anthropologist interested in the consequences of consumption, describes the Slow Food movement as empowering consumers as ‘international political actors’ (as cited in Leitch, 2008,p. 385). These are both very powerful statements that show how much deeper the Slow Food movement actually goes within societal concerns. The tactics of the Slow Food movement—in terms of their belief about production, consumption and a way of life—are easily turned into a tactic for design, more specifically, ‘slow design’. The slowLab design studio states that, “slowness doesn’t refer to how long it takes to make or do something... Rather, it describes an expanded state of awareness, accountability for daily actions, and the potential for a richer spectrum of experience for individuals and communities”(Strauss, n.d., para. 4). This explanation describes that slow design is not literally creating slower paced experiences, rather, it encourages opportunities for more significant and enriching experiences within our daily lives. It works in reaction to our day-to-day lives, where the constant bombardment of media forces us to unsuccessfully multitask, which then in turn causes us to miss these kinds of enriching experiences (i.e. texting at dinner, see Fig. 8).

The above information has been adapted from

Alastair Fuad-Luke (2002)—author of ‘slow design’ – a paradigm shift in design philosophy—noted that Ezio Manzini once said: “design in all its history, but especially in its more recent years, has been an agent of acceleration” (p. 2). Slow design rejects the notion that all design has to be about making things faster, and making faster things, it is proclaiming that design can be used as a tool to thoughtfully bring important social issues into awareness. As the authors of Limited Language: rewriting design see it, “the role [of ‘slow design’] is to facilitate slowness and to renew the phenomenological richness of people, places and things”(Davies & Parrinder, 2010, p. 156). One big


question is, how can the notion of ‘slow design’ function in a world that is so focused on speed and consumption, and why is this reaction so crucial? Slow design is the most effective when it can cause people to stop and reflect on what is truly important in life. It most often addresses personal problems that are universal within contemporary society and can function as a mediator between the slow and the fast extremes within our present world. This type of design theory is interested in more emotional, visceral responses that are qualitative (i.e. delight or intrigue) as opposed to more measurable responses that are quantitative (i.e. sales or numbers). It is possible that if we don’t slow down we may suffer from great personal and global losses due to our dependence on digital technology and our increasing pace of consumption. The philosophies and practices of both the Slow Food movement and the slow design movement will help when addressing the issues being presented in this thesis. Fig. 9 Slow Motion Food Film Festival Produced by Slow Food Nova Scotia in conjunction with the NS Department of Tourism Culture and Heritage, Select Nova Scotia, Taste of Nova Scotia and the Town of Wolfville, this biennial festival celebrates Food on Film. It’s mission is to promote awareness of Slow Food, food related issues, healthy eating, culinary Tourism in Nova Scotia and the increasing importance of local and sustainable food to the health of our region and planet.

The above information has been adapted from the ‘Slow Motion Food Film Fest’ Facebook Page.


Theoretical Framework


who cares? There are many designers right now who are interested in the concepts of slow design. Two of the designers working in the forefront of the slow design movement are Alastair Fuad-Luke and Carolyn Strauss. Fuad-luke (2002) deems himself a ‘design activist’ and believes that the main problem with design is that, “the messaging from current commercial interests is that individual well-being is implicit in the acquisition and consumption of products and services—the faster car, the latest computer, the smallest mobile phone” (p. 3). He believes that designers should try to counteract this ideal and create design that will communicate a different message, ‘that balances individual, socioeconomic and environmental well-being’(p. 3). Fuad-luke (2005) created a website in 2004 called—it is a cultural space set up to “stimulate debate around the concept of slow design... It links with existing thought clusters that perceive ‘design’ and ‘slowness’ as a positive influence towards more sustainable ways of living... It is an on-going dialogue; an open-ended project” (para. 1). He has also worked closely with the design group slowLab which was founded by Carolyn Strauss in 2003.

Fig. 10 Screen shot from the “slowMail” project by Carolyn Strauss and Julian Bleecker. Highlighted words were taken into consideration when deciding how fast or slow a message would be sent.

The slowLab is a network of ‘slow creative activists’—based in New York, NY—that was inspired by global ‘slow’ movements which serve to balance the demands of contemporary life on our bodies, our cities, and cultural fabric. One example of a slowLab project is titled “slowMail” by Carolyn Strauss and Julian Bleecker from 2008. It was an e-mail service that deliberately slows down the pace of electronic correspondence, enabling experiences of reflection and mindful interaction that are rarely characteristic of today’s electronically-mediated cultural forms. The most intriguing part of this design project is that the speed of the e-mail is determined by the content of the message. The tone of the message; the language used (see Fig. 10); the recipients physical distance and a few other factors between sender and receiver determines on how fast or slow the message arrives. This would challenge people to become “more mindful and creative in message composition as they look for the richer meanings behind the words and phrases they employ in communicating with one another”(Strauss, 2008, Projects section). This project is a straight forward example of design acting as a mediator— very literally—to the fast pace of our digitally centered existence and provides a platform (not a product) for people to think harder about what is really meaningful to them. The main goal of the slowLab is to “exchange ideas and resources, share knowledge and cooperatively develop projects that positively impact the lives of individuals, the communities they participate in and the planet that we share” (Strauss, n.d., para. 2). Their mission is to promote slow design as a positive catalyst of individual, sociocultural and environmental well-being.


SlowLab’s six main principles of slow design are as follows: Reveal: Slow design reveals spaces and experiences in everyday life that are often missed or forgotten, including the materials and processes that can easily be overlooked in an artifact’s existence or creation. Expand: Slow design considers the real and potential “expressions” of artifacts and environments beyond their perceived functionality, physical attributes and life spans. Reflect: Slowly-designed artifacts and environments induce contemplation and ‘reflective consumption.’ Engage: Slow design processes are ‘open source’ and collaborative, relying on sharing, cooperation and transparency of information so that designs may continue to evolve into the future. Participate: Slow design encourages people to become active participants in the design process, embracing ideas of conviviality and exchange to foster social accountability and enhance communities. Evolve: Slow design recognizes that richer experiences can emerge from the dynamic maturation of artifacts and environments over time. Looking beyond the needs and circumstances of the present day, Slow design processes and outcomes become agents of both preservation and transformation. (Strauss, n.d.) Combining both the ideas of slow design and Slow Food is designer Marije Vogelzang (see Fig. 11) from the Netherlands. The term ‘eating-design’ coined by Vogelzang (n.d.)—as opposed to food-design—is concerned with the senses, nature, culture, society, technique, psychology, science and the action of eating itself (para. 4) (see Fig. 13). What is interesting about Vogelzang’s work is that it includes both design and food in a very interesting way. Her work emphasizes the context of eating, addressing not just the psychological, but the (al)chemical, technical, social and societal implications of food (The Future Laboratory, 2008, p. 19). She runs an eatery in Rotterdam where seasonal and local foods are served at breakfast, lunch and high tea and an eatery/laboratory in Amsterdam both called “Proef”(see Fig. 14). This is where she experiments and does her work for large corporations (such as Droog, Nike and Phillips) as well as for smaller non-profit organizations.


Theoretical Framework

Fig. 13 Eating design principles.

Fig. 11 Marije Vogelzang giving a talk at Pop! Tech 2009 in Camden, ME

Fig. 12 Plate and food spread done in collaboration with DROOG for their project titled “Go Slow Café”.

Fig. 14 Proef restaurant/ laboratory in Amsterdam.


Along with products, exhibitions, performances and restaurant concepts, Vogelzang also designs ‘eating experiences’. Theses experiences are very interesting in the context of slow design. For the 2011 Arnhem Fashion Biennale she made a lunch of “Basics and Accessories,” one side of the picnic-floor only had the basics of a lunch; bread, toast, a scone and mini buns and the other side of the picnic-floor got a bag of accessories; spreads, jam, toppings, salad and juice (see Fig. 15). This put the diners in a position where they had to share with whom ever was across from them and afterwards the white bags and the paper place-mats underneath the food could be used as ‘fashionable’ hats and masks. This among many of the other experiences that she creates puts the diner in new and interesting situations that invite thoughtfulness, curiosity and intrigue. Vogelzang is noted as being the preeminent designer working in this unique field. Her combination of food and design is an interesting model that will be used as a major inspiration and methodology throughout this design process.

Fig. 15 Food experience for the Armhem Fashion Biennale titled “Basics and Accessories”.

The Furturefarmers are a very interesting group whose work is similar to that of Marije Vogelzang. This organization functions both as a Design Studio and an Artist in Residency program out of San Francisco, California. This group of both artists and designers has been working together since 1995; their studio serves as a platform to support art projects, an artist in residency program and research interests (Futurefarmers, n.d.). Their common interest is in “creating work that challenges current social, political and economic systems” (Futurefarmers, n.d., para. 1). This group of artists and designers is comfortable in a wide range of media both old and new, and its projects vary from designing the Twitter Logo to something like the “Soil Kitchen” project, which converted an abandoned building into a self sustainable, windmill powered, soup kitchen. One of their projects titled “F.R.U.I.T Network” from 2005, by artist Amy Franceschini and the ‘Free-Soil’ group, was about challenging the ecological knowledge of consumers and restoring a way of life that is friendly to the environment. They did this by creating an exhibition and a connecting website where people were encouraged to take an orange at the exhibition—which was in a wrapper that held information on a variety of aspects concerning food movements, transport and urban farming—that then led them back to the website (see Fig. 16). This was meant to encourage the viewer to become more thoughtful about where their food comes from. The futurefarmers’ diverse body of work truly shows how many different ways this topic could potentially be explored. Studio Orta, founded by Lucy and George Orta in 1991, is a collaborative studio that focuses mainly on issues of sustainability. They, like the Futurefarmers, work in a variety of media including performance. One project they have done that fits specifically within the realm of meal-time and design is called “70 x 7 The Meal”. They have set up this dining experience multiple times within different contexts, it focuses on the ritual of dining and its role in community networking. The basic premise is that seven guests are invited


Theoretical Framework

and are in turn asked to invite seven more guests creating a sort of ‘endless’ guest list. The Ortas have invented a series of what they call ‘never-ending meals’ where the guests are invited to dine on local food within surprising installations, complete with a set of limited edition plates and a table cloth created for each specific event. On the Studio Orta website they state that, “this ancestral ritual, the unique porcelain plates and the dynamic encounters of people from diverse horizons are the starting point for discussions and a lasting memento of the evening, to be re-enacted”(2001, concept section). It is a very interesting concept to combine the act of dining with installation as well as product design to being people together who have a common interest or goal. For example Studio Orta did a 7 x 70 The Meal project in 2001 it was “act VIII” and located in Aspen for the International Aspen Design Conference (see Fig. 18). There ended up being 448 guests and they were asked to discuss new ethical practices in design entitled ‘Design, what matters’ (Studio Orta, 2001, Exhibition History section). Another more recent example was done for the Umberto Veronesi Foundation annual charity gala dinner at the MAXXI Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo in Rome (see Fig. 19). It was the 32nd 7x70 The Meal that they have done, there were 370 guests and they were asked to discuss and reflect on “the healthy diet, which is not only the companion of wellbeing, but also the new frontier of medicine in the field of cancer prevention” (Studio Orta, 2001, Exhibition History section). The concept of a dinner acting as an art installation and also as a catalyst to forge connections to create positive change is an exciting proposal that has shown the potential power implicit in dynamic dining situations. Finding all of these designers and artists that are interested in combining things to do with meal time along with design strategies was a surprise as well as a delight! These strategies have been successful for these designers/artists in the past which impacts this study in a positive way as well. Going forward, the design that will result from this thesis study will most definitely be influenced by these designers already working within this overall field of food and design, both consciously and subconsciously.


Fig. 16 F.R.U.I.T. Network project from the Future Farmers. Gallery installation view and website screen-shot.

Fig. 17 70 x 7 The Meal act XXIV, ArtAids, Fundaci贸 Joan Mir贸 by Lucy & Jorge Orta 2006. An example of a limited edition plate. Fig. 18 70 x 7 The Meal, act VIII Aspen by Lucy & Jorge Orta 2001.

Fig. 19 70 x 7 The Meal act XXXII, MAXXI Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo Rome by Lucy & Jorge Orta 2011.


Theoretical Framework

Theoretical Background Summary The Slow Food movement is an established global movement that is appropriate to look at for a guide when investigating meal time as a possible solution to the lack of personal connection within contemporary society. The Slow Food movement inspired ‘slow design’, a new way of designing that encourages opportunities for more significant and enriching experiences within daily life. Slow design is the most effective when it can cause people to stop and reflect on what is truly important in life. Alastair Fuad-Luke and Carolyn Strauss are the designers at the forefront of slow design. Marije Vogelzang is one of the only designers found working closely with both the ideals and ideas of the Slow Food movement as well as slow design; she deems herself an ‘eating designer’. Futurefarmers are a group working closely with issues of food, production and design. Lucy & Jorge Orta are interested in sustainability and use a dynamic dining strategy called “7x70 The Meal” to bring people together to discuss many different issues. What this research revealed is that there is a lot more interest in this topic than initially anticipated. This has allowed for a much richer understanding of the issue. The discovery of other designers working within the field led to the realization of the many opportunities and different ways to approach this issue through design. What became evident was the need to vocalize these issues to the public—as opposed to trying to solve them—through design.


Outline of Inquiry


Preparazione del Pasto ‘preparing the meal ‘



Action Research

a.k.a. the design process Action research is a way of looking at the process of design as a form of research. It is about cyclical planing, acting, observing and reflecting. The main thing to keep in mind is that research should never be separate from practice, in this case the writing of the thesis document should not be separate from the project itself. The description of action research is very succinctly illuminated by Cal Swann (2002) in his paper Action Research and the Practice of Design:

Action research arises from a problem, dilemma, or ambiguity in the situation in which practitioners find themselves. It is a practical research methodology that usually is described as requiring the conditions to be met. First, its subject matter normally is situated in a social practice that needs to be changed; second, it is a participatory activity where the researchers work in equitable collaboration; and third, the project proceeds through a spiral of cycles of planning, acting, observing, and reflecting in a systematic and documented study. (p. 55 )

The cyclical nature of action research translates so well to design because it is very analogous to the cyclical nature of the design process (Fig. 20). Both models are iterative and self reflective; Swann suggests that they are so similar it would only take a couple of word substitutions for the theoretical frameworks of action research to apply to design (2002, p. 56). Action research requires the research process—the design process—to become visible, which is manifested within this thesis document.


Fig. 20 The design process mapped onto Action Research



Critical Design

Critical Design is meant to: Raise awareness Inspire change Raise questions Provoke debate CRITIQUE: Social Economic Cultural Technical

Critical design is a term coined by the design team Dunne & Raby. In their case, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby use design as a tool to make abstract social issues feel more tangible and understandable to the public. Their main goal is to make people become more involved and interested in large scale social problems, ‘design can be used to inspire, raise awareness, stimulate discussion and provoke debate’ (Dunne & Raby, 2005). An example of critical design is the project “Designs for an Overpopulated Planet: Foragers” from 2009 which addresses the problem of earth running out of food if we do not make a change within the next forty years. Dunne & Raby looked at possible ways that we as humans could take control of our own sustainability and created imaginary products that could ‘extract nutritional value from non-human foods using a combination of synthetic biology and new digestive devices’ (see Fig. 21 ) (Dunne & Raby, 2009). Through making the product seem feasible, Dunne & Raby have created a unique platform for debate and questioning which in turn leads to heightened awareness about the situation through the viewer. Alex Seago (1999) co-wrote the article “New Methodologies in Art and Design Research: The Object as Discourse” in the Design Issues periodical with Anthony Dunne. Seago distinctively connects the methodology of critical design with the methodology of action research in reference to the work done by Anthony Dunne:

As a Ph.D. by project, [Anthony] Dunne’s work uses research through the design process to explore an approach that allows the development of critical responses and a skeptical sensibility towards the ideological nature of design. (p. 14)

Dunne & Raby’s theory of critical design will be used in conjunction with action research as the theoretical and methodological foundation to help bring the issues brought up in this thesis to light.

Fig. 21 Augmented Digestive System and Tree Processor by Dunne & Raby


Slow Design Mentioned earlier in the Theoretical Background section, slow design will also apply to the methodologies that will be used to guide this design process. Alastair FaudLuke (2009) in his book Design Activism: beautiful strangeness for a sustainable world describes the process and outcomes of slow design:

Slow Design Outcomes: Designing for space to think, react, dream and muse. Designing for people first, commercialization second. Designing for local first, global second. Designing for sociocultural benefits and well-being. Designing for regenerative environmental benefits and well being. Encouraging self-initiated design. Catalyzing behavioral change and sociocultural transformation.

The above information has been adapted from

The process of slow design is comprehensive, holistic, inclusive, reflec- tive and considered. It permits evolution and development on the design outcomes. Slow design is manifest in any object, space or image that encourages a reduction in human, economic, industrial and urban resource flow metabolisms. (pg. 224)

The six principles of slow design as described in the Theoretical Background are: reveal, expand, reflect, engage, participate and evolve. These principles will be used as a foundation for the design methodology, brainstorming process, and project outcomes within this thesis. Action research, critical design and slow design all work very well together to complete a very solid and applicable theoretical underpinning and overall methodology for this thesis project.



Research through Design Fig. 22 Thesis Project Brainstorming / Mind Mapping (Oct. 2)


Mind Mapping & Sketching These commonly used design brainstorming methods were employed throughout all stages of the research and design development for this thesis. Mind maps (Fig. 22) and sketches (Fig. 23) were done within multiple sketch books throughout the entirety of the thesis investigation and were elaborated on within process books completed each term. Through the technique of mind mapping, new connections were realized, which in turn led to further research and more design possibilities. Sketching acted as a quick and effective way to communicate and work through rough ideas. These ideas were eventually developed further into more polished designs. Through the use of process books, these quick explorations could be reflected on and analyzed leading to a deeper understanding of the subject of meal time in relation to design. The acts of sketching and mind mapping were the main tools utalized to relate the information found within the theoretical framework with the actual act of designing.

Fig. 23 “Future Dinner� rough concept sketches



Data Visualizations & Model Making Data visualizations clearly communicate ideas and concepts that may not be easily understood through words alone. The book DATA FLOW 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic design explains this in the chapter ‘Data Processes’ by stating that, “when certain ... aspects of a problem are better explained by images than words, the designer has a large number of instruments at hand: flow charts, landscape diagrams, schematics and technical illustrations—to name just a few” (Schardt, 2010, p. 12). In this case, the technique of data visualization helped both the researcher and the reader to understand the importance of meal time within our contemporary culture, and what design’s role is within this issue. Model making is a tool that functions very comparably to a data visualization because it helps to more clearly describe abstract concepts (see Fig. 18). Through ‘quick and dirty’ model making, an idea can be clearly envisioned and communicated to peers. It was also a crucial way to find flaws and opportunities within the designs before creating a final, polished product. In this case conceptualizing very abstract and ‘impossible’ ideas through model making allowed for reflection and awareness of critical design concepts aligned with this thesis topic.

Fig. 24 Abstract Thesis Structure model


Surveys & Cultural Probe Questionnaires and surveys are a straightforward way to obtain information and feedback from participants and users about a proposed design or experience. A simple questionnaire was sent out to the participants after the first dynamic dining experience (The Kitchen Table as Creative Space, see p. 56 - 61 & Fig. 25). This questionnaire added value to the experience and provided data to base the next slow design/dynamic dining experience on. Simple cultural probes were sent out to potential dynamic dining participants as a way to gain insight before the final design outcome for this thesis was realized (see Fig. 26). The cultural probes functioned as a tool for participatory design (or ‘co-design’)—the feedback from the probes was assessed considered and used in the final design outcome (more information on this is found within the analysis and outcomes sections of this document). The information collected was used as ‘inspiration data’—similar to the technique described by Bill Gaver, Anthony Dunne and Elena Pacenti in their paper titled “Cultural Probes”—‘to stimulate imagination rather than define a set of problems’ (1999, p. 5). The probes aim was to inspire the final design as opposed to finding problems with it.

Fig. 25 The Kitchen Table as Creative Space filled out Questionnaires.



Fig. 26 Meal-Time Memories a creative investigation Probe Pack.


Dynamic Dining Experiences ­— eating, feeding, observing, listening, participating, recording & analyzing Bringing people together for a meal-time experience has been a valuable way to conduct research as well as test specific design outcomes for this thesis. The first dynamic dining experience functioned as a design testing tool within a circle of peers (see The Kitchen Table as Creative Space p. 56-61 & Fig. 27). The aim of the experience was to encourage participants to view the kitchen table as a possible place for connection and creativity. By setting up dynamic dining experiences for peers and reflecting on the results, the design concepts and iterations were able to be analyzed further and were eventually developed into final design concepts for alternate participants or for the public. The acts of eating, feeding, observing, listening, participating, recording and analyzing during the dynamic dining situations has added insight and understanding to the overall thesis aim—to get people to realize the benefits of eating meals together at the table.

Fig. 27 The Kitchen Table as Creative Space Invitation and Dynamic Dining Experience (participants blurred for anonymity).


Outline of Inquiry

Outline of Inquiry Summary Methodologies: Action Research Understanding the design process as a form of research. A cyclical process of planning, acting, observing and reflecting. The writing and research of this thesis are never separate from the designing. Critical Design A tool to make abstract social issues feel more tangible and understandable. A way to bring the issue of the “information crisis� to light through meal time. Slow Design Comprehensive, holistic, inclusive, reflective and considered. The six principles: reveal, expand, reflect, engage, participate and evolve. Methods: Mind Mapping and Sketching Data Visualizations and Model Making Surveys and Cultural Probes Dynamic Dining Experiences Lets get started...


Design Iterations and Analysis


Primo ‘first course‘


Design Iterations and Analysis

Future Dinner

a speculative design for dining etiquette of the future Future Dinner is a critical design proposal addressing the isolating effects that digital technology can have on our lives. Meal time traditionally functions as a social event that can bring people closer together, but in the future the social aspect of dining may disappear completely. The concept of this design is that the participant or user can choose to view their dining companions via webcam while eating or can easily switch to a web browser to check e-mail, turn on a movie, play some games or do some spreadsheets for work. The user could also open all of these windows at once for ultimate multi-tasking. No actual human contact is necessary as the table is sectioned off for each person. The inspiration for this design proposal came out of projects that were found during the theoretical background search for the methodologies of critical design. Critical design can be very biting and sarcastic, this is the basis that the concept of Future Dinner emerged from. To visualize this idea the methods used were sketching (see Fig. 21) and both physical and digital model making (see Fig. 28). Sketching at first allowed for many different iterations of the idea, resulting in the most effective design. Through making the model, the concept of Future Dinner was clearly communicated and understood easily by peers and advisors. This ‘quick and dirty’ design iteration revealed the power that model making has when pitching an idea to peers or clients. It also revealed how effective critical design approaches are at clearly illuminating a social issue. If this concept were to be taken further, a ‘prototype’ would be made and exhibited within a space where it could be viewed as both a potential product and an artifact of critical design. If people could interact with this product on a true-to-life scale, with working monitors it would even more effectively get the message across.

a speculative design for dining etiquette of the future


Fig. 28 Future Dinner physical model and digital model


Design Iterations and Analysis

Responsive Recipes

a link between the act of cooking and the act of dining

Galvanic Skin Response* A method of measuring the electrical conductance of the skin, which varies with its moisture level. This is of interest because the sweat glands are controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, so skin conductance is used as an indication of psychological or physiological arousal.

Responsive Recipes is a product design proposal that links the experience of cooking and the experience of dining within a cyclical system. The basic premise of this concept is that while dinner is being prepared, sensors would be recording the recipe into a device, at this point the recipe would be saved (see Fig. 30). This stage in the cycle is ideal for family recipes that are cooked instinctively from memory and are rarely recorded for future generations. Afterwards, during the meal, sensors on the diners (in the form of galvanic skin response* bracelets) would measure personal data such as emotional response, temperature and frequency of bites eaten. There would also be a voice recognition device placed underneath the table to measure the tone and frequency of conversation (see Fig. 31). Once this data is sent back to the device it would then determine whether or not this recipe was well received and whether it resulted in a successful evening or not. In turn, the order and prominence of the recipe within the device would change accordingly. So basically, your best received recipes rise to the top of your cookbook, while the worst fall to the bottom. This way you could pick your future meal plans based on past positive dining experiences. There were two options for the ‘device’ that were explored for this product. One was electronic paper. This option would give a more realistic feeling book lending itself better to the nostalgic aura of an old cook book. It would also function as an individual artifact; your own family cookbook. The major downfall to this option was that it would be more expensive, and not easily shared with others. The other option was involving social media and creating an application for devices such as the Apple iPad (see Fig. 32). This concept would allow for the product to be accessible to more people and would also allow for recipes to be shared. For example, a twenty-two year old at University could have access to all of his family recipes at any time. The recipes could also be shared within a community of people who are all using the Responsive Recipes App. The fact that that people would be able to share their recipes as well as their meal-time experiences effortlessly within a like minded group would also give an added incentive to cook and eat as together more often. All together this product would include: a kitchen sensor, a set of GSR bracelets, a voice recognition device and access to the online application.

The above information has been adapted from Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.


The argument of this thesis states that as a society we don’t spend enough time together due to an overwhelming amount of technology. Through working out the concept for this design proposal it became clear that it is important to keep in mind that people will not stop using new technologies. As slow-designers we can still use things like social media as tools for change, and in this case as a tool to encourage people to spend time enjoying meals with family and friends. This realization could have a large impact on the overall understanding of the problems addressed within this thesis, as well as for the practice of ’slow design’ as a whole.

Fig. 29 Possible branding solution. Combining both contemporary and traditional type faces to appeal to both a younger and older demographic.


Design Iterations and Analysis

Fig. 30 (how it works) Stage one: COOKING A sensor in the kitchen space would record ingredients, technique and cooking time.


Fig. 31 (how it works) Stage two: EATING A voice recognition device would record tone and rate of conversation. GSR bracelets would be recording emotional responses as well as temperature and frequency of bites.

Fig. 32 (how it works) Stage three: RECORDING All data would be passed to the digital application and subsequently analyzed.


Design Iterations and Analysis

The Kitchen Table as Creative Space — a slow design experience exploring meal time memories The Kitchen Table as Creative Space is a slow design experience encouraging people to view the kitchen table as a possible place for creative engagement and communication. The concept of this design was to create a setting that appeared as a traditional dinner but to replace all of the conventional components —forks, knives, napkins—with craft supplies (see Fig. 34). Different supplies were spread out across the table creating an atmosphere of sharing. The participants were asked to visualize a memorable meal from their past or present using the tools and materials provided. The resulting pieces were then meant to be shared and talked about with everyone at the table creating a sense of conviviality, connectivity and story telling. The goal of this experience was to draw out positive memories of meal-time as well as to engage the participants with each other and with the act of creating. This slow-design experience was carried out with the MDes class on Friday, January 13th, 2012. A week before the event, a formal invitation was handed out to each guest (see. Fig. 27) stating the following: You are invited to: The Kitchen Table as Creative Space A slow design experience exploring meal-time memories on 13 January 2012 at NSCAD University Rm. N400 sometime between 9am and 11pm The invitation had an image of what the table setting would look like and gave a hint that meal-time memories would be explored. It also gave a hint that it would be a ‘slow design experience’. As the participants are also design students they had an idea of what slow design is, but leaving the invitation quite vague was meant to spark a bit of curiosity and excitement for the following week. On the day of the event, the table was all set and ready and at each place setting was a set of instructions (see Fig. 33). The instructions had a hand drawn diagram (indicative of a ‘slow design’) showing the participant how they might use the materials provided and it also stated the following:

During this ‘breakfast’ instead of consuming a meal you will be re-creating a meal. Using the materials provided you will be visual- izing one (or more) of your all-time favourite meal memories. How you choose to visualize the meal is completely up to you. Both supplies and memories are meant for sharing! Buon appetito!


Fig. 33 The Kitchen Table as Creative Space instruction sheet and diagram detail.


Design Iterations and Analysis

The simple instruction sheets worked out well as the facilitator did not need to give much instruction, and it was clear to the participants what they needed to do. At the beginning of the experience everyone was very concentrated on deciding what meal-time memory to re-create and what materials to use, not much conversation was going on (see Fig. 36). Once people got their ideas moving the conversation began to pick-up a bit. The music in the background also seemed to help people to feel more comfortable. Throughout the experience there was the impression of a missing element that was needed to prompt discussion. Conversation was one of the main goals of this experience and it was also the primary element that would need to be worked on if this idea is to be taken further. Another flaw was in the instruction. The instructions it stated that “you will be re-creating a meal�, by saying this, most of the participants were focused on literally representing food instead of thinking about their memories (with an exception of two). This can be seen very clearly in their creative outcomes (see Fig. 37). In the end this hindered the experience of remembering family and friends by focusing too much on the food itself. If this experience were to be carried out again more attention would have to be paid in the wording and vocabulary within the instructions. This dynamic dining experience may have not achieved the exact result that was expected, but it did introduce important aspects that needed to be added or changed.

Fig. 34 The Kitchen Table as Creative Space table set up


Four days after the dynamic dining experience, questionnaires were distributed to all participants (see fig. 25). This approach was extremely helpful when assessing the results of the overall experience. The participants were given a scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree, and the questions went as follows:

Did this experience help you to remember positive meal-time memories? Did this make you consider meal-time as a possible time for creativity? Did this experience help you to consider the possible benefits of sitting down to a meal with friends and family more often? Were you curious about other peoples meal-time memories? Did you feel like you wanted to share your own memories with others? Were you comfortable during this experience?

Participants also wrote down extra comments that were very informative and revealed what could have been done differently. To assess the feedback forms, a data visualization was created to more clearly understand and summarize the results—which ended up being for the most part positive and neutral. By creating the visualization charts it was easier to see the general consensus of the group (see Fig. 35). Taking into consideration the feedback from the participants’ questionnaires possible revisions to the experience began to emerge.







Fig. 35 Simple data visualization charts show the results from the The Kitchen Table as Creative Space questionnaire. The numbers correspond to the questions. The horizontal axis represents the possible answers (from strongly agree on the far left to strongly disagree on the far right). The vertical axis represents the number of students who responded to each option (the higher the bar the more students responded to that answer). The circles show which answer had the most checks, as you can see they are mostly ‘strongly agree’ to “neutral”. Meaning the experience had an over all positive affect on the participants.


Design Iterations and Analysis

The ethical aspects of conducting a dynamic dining scenario were realized for the first time during the documentation of The Kitchen Table as Creative Space experience. Using the MDes class as the participants worked extremely well as a test, but looking forward, different participants would need to be used. Including names and faces of the participants is also something that needs to be considered when documenting any future dynamic dining scenarios.

Many of the participants expressed the need to do the creative part of the exercise (see Fig. 36) on their own so that they could be more focused, and would have liked to share their memories with the group afterwards, in a different setting. For example participant 11 stated, “I enjoyed being in a group setting but also the peace of making my own plate”. Participant 4 felt similarly and stated, “creativity is more solitary and individual for me, and not social”. To solve this issue the first stage of the experience could be conducted in a space where the participants could create their meal memories privately and comfortably. The second stage could involve the group coming back together afterwards to share an actual meal while discussing and sharing what they had created. Participant suggested this exactly, “we may need to work alone... and then all come back to the table for there to be more interaction”. Having actual food was also brought up by many participants, participant 5 stated, “eating while making! Food, tastes and smells could get the creative juices flowing”. Perhaps coming back together for an actual meal afterwards would satisfy this hunger and help to stimulate conversation. Another main issue brought up by participants was not having enough time to discuss their pieces . Participant 2 said, “we should have scheduled more time so my curiosity about other meal-time memories could be satisfied” and participant 8 said, “it might have been nice to hear people’s dinner stories if they felt like sharing”. A way to address all of the participants comments and concerns could involve a ‘design/cultural probe pack’ that would be sent out to participants before the dynamic dining event. This would allow participants complete independence in the creative aspect of their meal-time memory and they could also spend as much time creating their piece as they wanted. The probe packs would then be sent back to the designer and applied to the design of the follow-up dynamic dining experience. At the follow-up dynamic dining experience the participants memories would be considered in choice of foods served and in the atmosphere of the dining environment. This way the memories that they were thinking about while working with the probe would resurface—through memory triggers like taste, smell and sight­—and then facilitated into a discussion over dinner. This solution led to the next phase of designing.


Fig. 36 The participants working on their meal-time creations.

Fig. 37 The participants finished meal-time memories.


Design Iterations and Analysis

Meal-Time Memories

a creative investigation This creative ‘cultural probe’ (see Fig. 38) was the first step to take before coming up with the final design proposal for this thesis. Included in each probe pack was: a double sided instruction sheet, a Meal-Time Memories questionnaire booklet, five flash cards, four coloured pencils, a standard pencil, a sharpener, an eraser, a black pen, scratch and sniff stickers and a disposable camera (see Fig. 26). As the packs were handed out the participants were casually briefed on the contents. The double sided instruction sheet was a crucial element to the pack. This laid out for the participant in a very simple and straightforward way what was expected from them, and how the contents of the pack should be used. On the front side of the instructions it said:

dear participant, first of all, thank you so much for taking part in this research process for my thesis! included in this ‘creative investigation’ pack are:

a meal-time memories questionnaire booklet/ fill this booklet out how ever you feel appropriate (for example by writing or drawing).

word association flash cards/ read the word on one side of the card and respond on the other using materials provided.

a disposable camera/ photograph where you most often eat your meals in your home, where you eat meals if you have company and your favorite meals that you eat this week!

creative tools/ includes pens, colour pencils, ‘scratch and sniff’ stickers and a disposable camera.

thanks again!

On the back of the instructions sheet were three basic questions; age, gender, and favorite food or meal. This was simply to get some general information about the participants.


Fig. 38 Meal-Time Memories probe pack bag.

Fig. 39 Meal-Time Memories probe pack instruction sheet, questionnaire booklet and flash cards.


Design Iterations and Analysis

The Meal-Time Memories questionnaire booklet was the main way of gaining information from the participants as well as the main part of the pack for participants to start thinking about their best meal-time memories. The booklet also had its own set of instructions which said:

Dear friend,

Thank you so much for participating in this creative investigation of your meal-time memories!

This little booklet asks a few simple questions about your all time favourite meal-time memory. The questions provided are just a guide, so please add any additional information or details that you can think of.

Feel free to draw, write, brainstorm, scribble some poetry or any other technique that comes to mind to fill out this questionnaire!

Inside the gate-fold booklet each page had a different main question; who, what, when, where and why (see Fig. 40). More specifically: Who were you with? Who made you laugh? Who was the host? Who cooked the meal? What was the occasion? How many people? What was the conversation? What was the mood? When was the meal? How old were you? What time of day was it? What time of year? Where was the meal? What did the room look like? Where did you sit? Why did you choose this memory? How does it make you feel? Asking these specific questions was important, as learned in the The Kitchen Table as Creative Space experience, without clear and concise questions the participants may end up only recalling the food from the memory and not the more compelling details. The five ‘word association’ flash cards were a less detail oriented component to the pack. These cards were more about responding to the words with emotional feedback. This information was used as ‘inspirational data’ (as explained in the outline of inquiry section on p. 43). Each card asked, what do you think of when you hear the word...? The five words presented were: connectivity, communication, recipe, dinner, and family meal.


The tools provided were standard drawing and writing tools that most people would feel comfortable working with. The eraser and sharpener were included incase of mistakes or a broken pencil. The scratch and sniff stickers were added as a fun element to help to invite play. They also smelled like various fruits and vegetables which may have triggered some meal-time memories from the participants. The final creative tool was the disposable camera. This part of the probe pack failed. Most participants forgot to take photos all together and if they did it was only one or two. This ended up being a big expense if they were to be developed. In hindsight the participants should have been asked to take their photos digitally and then subsequently upload them to a program like Dropbox or send them in a text message. After the packs were returned the participants were asked to do just that­­—to retake their photos digitally—only three were able to in time (see appendix C for details). This was the main flaw in the design of the probe pack.

Fig. 40 Meal-Time Memories probe pack questionnaire booklet.


Design Iterations and Analysis

There were six participants involved in this survey. It was a small number due to cost of probe supplies and availability of participants. In addition, the original plan was to create a dynamic dining experience specifically for the participants­—meaning that the dinner could not fit more than six or eight people. Cost and setting were also factors in this decision. There was a specific age range chosen for the participants as it was such a small sampling. The age range was between twenty and twenty nine, this is a group of people who are still in school or have just graduated, trying to figure out their future and starting to think about things like what kind of family and lifestyle they want in the future. This generation could also be said to be the most integrated with technology, so it was interesting to see their answers to the questionnaire and to the flash cards. It could be a glimpse into how families of the future may be enjoying their meal-times. The visual design, identity (see Fig. 41) and contents of the probe packs were crucial to getting the participants excited and engaged with the material. Every participant was excited to receive the little white bag and was curious about what was inside. There was a mixture between hand-drawn elements and print elements throughout the design to portray both a playful side and a professional side.

Fig. 41 Meal-Time Memories probe pack visual identity.


In terms of analyzing the returned probes there were many interesting crossover responses with both the Meal-Time Memories questionnaire booklets as well as the five ‘word association’ flash cards. Within the booklets the most repeated word throughout all of the responses was ‘laughter’, six times overall. This reveals that humour played a key role in many of the participants memories. This aspect of play and lightheartedness will be important to involve in the final design. Another two related words to take note of were relaxed and comfortable. Relaxation was mentioned prominently in three of the participants’ responses as was comfort. Both relaxation and comfort have to do with a mood, as well as context and setting, this will be taking into consideration in the final design proposal. Some other words that were used to describe the participants’ memories—though not as frequently—that stood out, were: playful, collegial, unified, conversation, special, loving, cultural, traditional, happiness, nostalgic and simple. All of these insights inherently show what a meal-time experience is able to provide for people. These are the kinds of feelings that get lost when we forget about the importance of meal-time. Taking all of these words into consideration will help to inform the final design; they will help the future participants, users or viewer to realize these key elements and emotions that can be found during meal-time. The flash cards were also very enlightening, although the probe packs were all completed separately there were many interesting visual and written connections (see Fig. 42). First of all almost all of the responses to the word ‘recipe’ ended up being either a cookbook or a list. This shows the importance of cookbooks, lists and specific instructions are key to this age group when preparing a meal. This brings us back to the concept of Responsive Recipes design proposal, this idea may in fact be ideal for the 20 - 30 year age demographic. Many circle representations showed up on the Communication, Conectivity and Dinner cards. The circle may play a prominent role in the final visual design concept. The table itself was quite important, whether it was circular or long it usually fit more than two people, this showed up on both the dinner and family meal cards as well as in the questionnaire booklet. This will dictate the canvas for the final design proposal. Something very interesting brought up at least once by almost every participant was an element of technology. Especially on the cards Communication and Connectivity. It is very telling that the first thing that this age demographic thinks of when they hear these two words are: internet, cellphones, facebook, e-mail, texts, FaceTime, twitter, technology, digital, wires and globalization. This essentially illustrates the whole focus of this thesis, in no place were these terms mentioned within the Meal-Time Memories questionnaire booklets, yet when asked what came to mind when the participants heard the words communication and connectivity many of them answered in this way.


Design Iterations and Analysis



Fig. 42 Common themes found in the returned flash cards. Not all responses are shown, only the ones with significant connections have been highlighted.



family meal



Design Iterations and Analysis

Design Iterations and Analysis Summary Future Dinner This design proposal showed how critical design could work as an effective tool to help make people aware of the problems associated with the loss of meal-time in contemporary culture. Responsive Recipes This design proposal brought to light the possibility of using new technologies in a way that would encourage­, as well as assist, people to have more family meals. The Kitchen Table as Creative Space This was a slow design experience meant to help people see the kitchen table as more than just a place to eat. It showed the potential that designing a ‘dynamic dining’ experience has for effectively getting the ideas and concepts of this thesis across. Meal-Time Memories This creative cultural probe was a tool to help inform the final design proposal for this thesis. The design and aesthetics of the probes proved to be crucial elements in getting the participants excited and interested to be involved in the project.


Design Outcomes


Secondo ‘second course‘


Design Outcomes

Charting Connections at the Table — ­­ a dynamic dining experience This final design proposal is based on findings from the The Meal-Time Memories probes and the principals of slow design and critical design. The first implementation of this concept was realized at the 2012 Masters of Design Graduate Exposition on April 16th at 5:00 pm. Since it’s first implementation was not a dinner setting, but rather a casual buffet, the title was slightly altered to be Charting Connections at the Snack Table and the outcome was slightly different than if it had been implemented in a more formal setting. The first part of this experience dealt with connection and communication at the table. This took into consideration specific aspects that were important in participants’ probe responses; many felt that their favourite meal-time memories were; collegial, unified, conversational and playful. This part of the design was based on the principals of slow design ‘engage’ and ‘participate’. The basic premise of the first aspect of this design was that participants would literally chart their connections and relationships on the actually table top. There was an instructional sign that stated:

By each snack that you try, write your name! If you see someone’s name that you know, or that you have talked to tonight, connect your names visually!

The table top was covered with paper instead of a table cloth and markers were provided. The participatory element of this experience facilitated as well as encouraged communication. Participants connected with their friends and also hopefully engaged with strangers, asking their names, to create new connections. The end result of this collaborative table cloth visually revealed how meal-time and the table can connect and ‘unify’ people (see Fig. 50). The second part of the experience had to do with the tableware itself. It visually brought into awareness all of the positive benefits of sharing a meal at the table that were found within The Meal-Time Memories probes; humour, play, relaxation, comfort, connectivity, communication, nostalgia, simplicity, tradition, and happiness. This part of the design was based on the slow design principles of ‘reveal’ and ‘expand’. All of the serving plates had a written and visual message hidden underneath the food. As the snacks were eaten the benefits of eating meals together were slowly revealed (see Figs. 44-46). This simple design solution slowly exposed itself which added a sense of discovery and play to the experience. It also showed the potential that the tableware has, as an object, to assert a positive message to the user.


Charting Connections at the Snack Table

Fig. 43 Charting Connections at the Table set-up diagram.


Design Outcomes

Fig. 44 Black and white plate designs ‘communication’, ‘love’, ‘the table’, ‘conversation’ and ‘tradition’.


The third and final part of this experience emerged from a critical design stance. It was also based on the ‘reflect’ and ‘evolve’ principles of slow design. It was an expansion on the Future Dinner concept, implemented in a slightly different manner (see Fig. 49). This concept was a simple and effective way to display and get feedback on the original Future Dinner concept. The table separate from the snack table and facing the wall had an iPad set up with information about the Future Dinner concept (see Fig. 49). The model was there as well for further understanding and the table was covered with paper so that participants could answer the question, “is this what it means to be connected?”. Hopefully the isolating effects of technology were felt by the individual. As an added element, there were tape lines on the floor connecting the Future Dinner table to the larger snack table drawing participants between the two (see Fig. 48). Overall this experience was a success because it engaged participants, sparked interest, created thoughtful discussion and raised questions!

Fig. 45 Circular plate designs ‘humour’, ‘memories’ and ‘connectivity’.


Design Outcomes


Fig. 46 Charting Connections at the Table concept visualization.


Design Outcomes

Fig. 47 Charting Connections at the Snack Table ... table! Complete with instructions, markers, connectivity flags and quotation cards.


Fig. 48 Charting Connections at the Snack Table Future Dinner station with floor connection tape to the snack table.


Fig. 49 Charting Connections at the Snack Table Future Dinner station.


Fig. 50 Charting Connections at the Snack Table results!





Dolce — ‘dessert’ The heart of this thesis emerged from a concern that as a society we have lost the fundamental benefits of enjoying meals together due to the isolating effects of screen culture. This study began by trying to solve this problem, but the solution quickly became an issue of awareness. Design was used as a tool to help to bring this subject to light, and to assist in returning the dynamics of meal-time to our everyday lives. Through the research done for the ‘Theoretical Framework’ the relevance and gravity of this issue revealed itself. Writers, psychologists, health professionals, web developers, artists and designers all expressed an interest in this topic. This thesis was further inspired by work done by artists and designers working within this environment. The next step was to figure out what could be done, and how to do it. By way of the ‘Outline of Inquiry’ a path of investigation was set out. This study applied the methodologies and theories of action research, slow design, slow food and critical design. Action research was the primary methodology that determined the entire process. Through writing, designing and researching simultaneously, unique solutions emerged! The cyclical act of planing, acting, observing and reflecting allowed for many design iterations to emerge, including: Future Dinner, Responsive Recipes, The Dinner Table as Creative Space, and Meal-Time Memories; all which led to the final design proposal Charting Connections at the Table. The design of a dynamic dining experience like Charting Connections at the Table will enable participants to begin to understand the importance of eating more meals together. The three main aspects of this design addressed the same issue from three different angles. First from an angle of participation and active engagement, the charting of connections; second from an angle of passive engagement, the plate designs; and third from an angle of critique, the Future Dinner. At it’s core this design addressed the thesis topic through the playful participation and emotional engagement of the user, which in turn led to the encouragement of thoughtful reflection on the issue. An exciting aspect about this final design proposal is that it can be used and adapted in a multitude of settings and can continue to grow and inform more designs in the future. This thesis confirms the need within contemporary culture for meal-time, and it shows the multiple ways in which design can help this need be realized. Whether it is approached from a critical point of view; as a product development or visual campaign; as a dynamic dining experience or even as a digital intervention; what the industry can learn from this is that no matter which way one approachs this issue, it is clear that design will play a key role in the solution.



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Eisenberg, M. D., Fulkerson, J. A., Larson,N., Neumark-Sztainer, D., & Story, M. (2008). Family Meals and Disordered Eating in Adolescents. In The Archives Of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Retrieved from http://archpedi.ama- 29 March 2011. Fisher, M. F. K. (2011). Love in a Dish ... and Other Culinary Delights. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press Flammang, J. (2009). The Taste for Civilization: food, politics and civil society. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Friedman, A. (2005). Room for Thought: Rethinking Home and Community. Toronto: Penguin Group (Canada). Fuad-Luke, A. (2002). ‘slow design’ – a paradigm shift in design philosophy?. Retrieved from 5 August 2011. Fuad-Luke, A. (2005). About Slow. Retrieved from slow.html. 31 October 2011. Faud-Luke, A. (2009). Design Activism: beautiful strangeness for a sustainable world. London: Earthscan. Faud-Luke, A., & Strauss, C.F. (2008). The Slow Design Principles: a new interrogative and reflexive tool for design research and practice in Changing the Change: Design Visions, Proposals and Tools. Turin, Italy. Futurefarmers. (n.d.) About. Retrieved from 1 December 2011. Gaver, B. Dunn, T. and Pacenti E. (1999). Cultural Probes. In Interactions... January and February 1999. (pp 21-29). Green, P. (2008). The Slow Life Picks Up Speed. Retrieved from 5 August 2011. Inness, S. (2006). Secret Ingredients: Race Gender and Class at the Dinner Table. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


Ochs, E., & Taylor, C. (1992). Science at Dinner. In Kramsch, C., & McConnel-Ginet, S. (Eds.) Text and Context: Cross Disciplinary Perspectives on Language Study (pp. 29-45). Lexington: DC Health. Leitch , A. (2008). Slow Food and the Politics of Pork Fat. In Counihan, C & Van Esterik, P. (Eds.) Food and Culture: A Reader. (pp. 381-399) New York: Routledge. Leung, L., & Tam, D. (2008). The Art of ‘Slow’: Taking Time in the Digital Age. In L. Leung (Ed.), Digital Experience Design: Ideas, Industries, Interaction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Levy, David. (2008). No Time to Think. In Google Tech Talks. Retrieved from 6 February 2011. Marinetti, F. T. (1991). The Futurist Cookbook. San Fransisco :Chronicle Books. Novero,C. (2010). Antidiets of the Avant-Garde: From Futurist Cooking to Eat Art. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press. Parker-Pope, T. (2007) The Family Meal Is What Counts, TV On or Off. Retrieved from /2007/10/16/health/16well.html?_r=1. 5 August 2011. Perrottet, T. (n.d.) The Fururist Cookbook. Retrieved from http://www.tablematters. com/index.php/plate/cu/cufuture. 12 March 2012. PubMed. (2007). Television watching and frequency of family meals are predictive of overweight onset and persistence in a national sample of school-aged children. In U.S National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from 28 March. 2011. Ramakers, R. (E.d) (2004). Simply Droog. Amsterdam: Droog. Rimer, S. (2009). Play With Your Food, Just Don’t Text! Retrieved from 1 December 2011.


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Appendix A

Appendices This appendices contains relevant projects, concepts and visualizations done within the time span of this research as well as photos from the Meal-Time Memory Probe Packs.

Communication Analysis Seen to the right is a visualization of all personal communication had within the time span of one day. The colours represent the type of communication being had, the colder the colour the further away the communication is emotionally and physically (from face to face all the way to a ‘tweet’). The time line horizontally is divided into seven sections also representing each type of communication (again, the physically closer communication is the closest to the left and the more

disconnected communication is further to the right). The dots represent the number of people being communicated to. What is most notable here is the massive amount of digital communication being had within one day. As well as the distance there is both physically and emotionally between digital communication (a ‘tweet’) and a personal conversation (face-to-face).

1 person face to face phone call text message e-mail facebook message facebook status twitter tweet


|| ||||||| | |||| || ||| | ||| || || || | || | ||||| || ||||| || |||| || |||||||| || | |||| |||| ||||| | || | || || | | |||||| | ||| ||| |

1 person face to face phone call text message e-mail facebook message facebook status twitter tweet


Appendix A



Grow Your Own Next Sunday Dinner SEEDS This was a ‘quick-and-dirty’ design iteration of a design concept that was looking into ‘the impossible’. The premise of this idea was that you could buy your dinner in seed form and by ‘next Sunday’ it would grow itself and there is your dinner! It is being critical about how people are so busy and don’t make the time to cook very often.

Appendix B


Conversation Studies Early in the research and design process conversations at mealtimes were recorded and then analyzed visually. This was an interesting way to view the conversational dynamic and the dinner table.


Participant Probe Photographs These photographs sent in digitally by participants depicted where they most often eat their meals. Most notably all three spaces were situated infront of a screen, either computer or television. This illustrates how meal-time has become a solitary event, connected with technology.

Appendix C


Participant Probe Photographs These photographs sent in digitally by participants depicted where they eat their meals on special occasions. Most notably all three spaces were situated at a dinner table. This illustrates that the eating at the table has become a rare occasion.

The Kitchen Table as a Slow Design for Family Connectivity and Communication  

an exploration into the positive benefits of meal time using the theories of critical design, slow design and action research

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