The basic tenets of user-centered design are applicable to any situation in which the user interacts with a product. This is also the case of cooking.
In an article on User Experience (UX), Jacob Gube explained that prior to the advent of user-centered design, designers “built interaction based on what we thought worked — we designed for ourselves. The focus was on aesthetics and the brand, with little to no thought of how the people who would use the website would feel about it.”
Gube was referring to websites, but UX design applies to any product or service with which the user interacts. UX covers so many areas that it can even be applied to cooking. And this is precisely the subject of this article.
User Experience and Usability
What is UX design? In short, it’s the process of enhancing and improving user satisfaction when interacting with a product or service. The user-centered design allows us to design products based on user preferences instead our own preferences or those of the client. When other products are as efficient as ours, we must add one more element: Improving customer satisfaction, creating an exceptional experience.
UX design covers different aspects such as aesthetics, perception, utility or usability. Often, usability has been confused with UX, but the latter is a much broader concept that includes the first one. A product can be perfectly usable (allows the user to easily perform a task), but offer a poor experience.
Because of this confusion of concepts, usability is sometimes underestimated. However, a poor usability completely spoils the user experience.
Usability and cooking
When we walk into a restaurant and we sit in front of a dish, we become users who interact with a product and, like any other product, this dish has been also designed.
In general, the designer (the chef) takes into account several elements: taste, appearance, smell and nutritional value are the most common. The most sophisticated chefs also pay attention to how the various ingredients interact with our mouths: they are crunchy, they melt or gradually release their flavor…
However, there is an essential element that rarely is taken into account: Usability. For usability in cooking I refer to the ease with which a dish is consumed.
Consider the case of lasagna. We have a series of layers of pasta alternated with sauce and other ingredients. The real pleasure of the lasagna is precisely in the combination of these elements. However, when we try to cut it into pieces, the sauce escapes out of the layers and we wind up with only pasta on the fork. The same happens with many other dishes such as cannelloni, cakes, sandwiches and other elaborated dishes.
Certain dishes are designed in a way that instead of eating them it seems we are defusing a bomb. The chef didn’t take into account the user because the dish is simply difficult to eat. The taste and aesthetics have been ruined because of lack of usability.
To sum it up, user-centered design isn’t limited to traditional areas such as websites. Its basic tenets are applicable to any situation in which the user interacts with a product. No doubt applying UX design into cooking would represent a breakthrough.