Food is the most fundamental product we consume, yet most people don’t appreciate the amount of research, design, and engineering that goes into many of the items at their local supermarket or favorite restaurant. Although design's role in other consumer goods, especially electronics, is widely acknowledged, the contribution of product design to food and culinary items is often overlooked. Designers have, in fact, come up with countless innovations to command shelf space and redefine established categories in the hotly contested culinary marketplace.
As is the case with most new products, delivering a memorable user experience has become an important goal of many food-related items. Whether it's an attempt to renew interest in a proven brand or a fresh approach to bring consumers together through food, a well-designed eating experience can sooth, satisfy, and entertain us in the most powerful ways.
The past year has seen the introduction of hundreds of new food-related products, not to mention the start of innumerable food-related trends. Here’s a brief roundup of the designs and innovations I predict will have staying power, as well as a few I’m hoping will slide off the cultural radar faster than fried eggs on a Teflon pan.
A brilliant iPhone app, this allows diners to transmit a photo of their meal and moments later receive an estimate of its calorie count. Harnessing the power of advanced algorithms, this app's game-like qualities and immediacy of feedback make it fun for dieters to monitor their caloric intake.
Image Courtesy of Meal Snap
I love this product—not just because it's convenient and tastes good, but also because it’s a true reinvention of a food category that’s been a staple for generations. Via is instant coffee 2.0. From its innovative packaging to the line of “accessories” available to complement the experience, this is product development at its best.
Photography by: Kevin Lee/Bloomberg
Heinz Dip & Squeeze Ketchup
A complete rethinking of traditional condiment packaging, this is smart, functional, and destined to change how people use ketchup on the go. I can’t put it any better than the company’s own press release—“After 42 years of messing with ketchup packets, people can now eat America’s Favorite Ketchup with ease.”
Image Courtesy of Heins
Mini Soda Cans
Sometimes a simple change in scale is all that’s needed to create something new. The popular little cans from Coke and Pepsi (7.5 ounce) reflect a trend to “right size” meals, reduce waste, and capture new customers who would otherwise pass on a full-size serving. That they’re also really cute doesn’t hurt.
Image Courtesy of Coca-Cola
Zoku Quick Pop Maker
This beautifully designed gadget lets families experience all the fun of making ice pops without the dreaded, “Are they ready yet?” In less than 10 minutes (and without electricity), you and your kids can gather around the kitchen table to enjoy a thoroughly modern version of the old Tupperware favorite.
Image Courtesy of Zoku
The idea behind the product, introduced a few years ago but just now becoming widely available, is to keep the vitamins and water in “enhanced water" separate until they're consumed. The concept is extremely smart, and Activate’s execution is even smarter—a waterproof twist cap that stores the vitamins at full potency until use. One of the coolest innovations ever in beverage design.
Image Courtesy of Activate
I’m not sure whether to be impressed or saddened by this slick tabletop gadget that offers restaurant customers the convenience of placing orders and paying their checks without having to flag down a waiter. That’s all well and good, but movie trailers, games, and other entertainment/marketing features bring new distractions to an environment that should focus on face-to-face interaction among diners.
Image Courtesy of Ziosk
The addition of bacon to every edible product imaginable—donuts, soda, popcorn, chocolate, vodka, toothpicks—must stop.
Above, Bakon vodka. Image Courtesy of Bakon
This pricey, unsatisfying trend really took hold this year. Food on a stick is fine, but there’s no need to make cake look like a lollipop—nobody over age 3 can eat one without looking silly.
Image Courtesy of Starbucks
Samsung “Appified” Refrigerators
Samsung generally designs beautiful appliances that make the kitchen more functional and user friendly. Still, I question the value of an 8-in. touchscreen on a fridge to check my Twitter feed while cooking. Although perhaps not as dangerous as similar tech built into a car’s dash, it's distressing to see pervasive Internet connectivity extended to the room that once brought families together over meal prep.
Click 'n Cook Spatula System
This innovation supposedly came from the social product development site Quirky. That a sufficient number of people voted to finance a modular spatula handle with interchangeable tool heads makes me wonder about the democratization of design.
Image Courtesy of Quirky.com
The Aeroshot, unveiled in 2011, is a lipstick-size canister that delivers inhalable powder containing caffeine in an amount equivalent to “a very light espresso.” The breathable caffeine was developed by Harvard professor and inventor David Edwards, who’s also a co-founder of Breathable Foods. The product is currently available at Aeroshots.com for $2.99 and is slated to hit stores in Boston and New York this month. But there’s some concern that the product could be abused by teenagers. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has asked the FDA to review the safety and legality of the inhaler.
Image Courtesy of Aeroshots
Oscar Meyer Weinermobile Food Truck
The retro-futuristic Weinermobiles have been an icon of American pop food culture since 1936, so I had high hopes for Oscar Meyer’s attempt to capitalize on the food truck craze that has swept the nation. I love to see people eating al fresco, talking to strangers and bringing life to city sidewalks. Many wiener fans, though, were disappointed to see such a missed design opportunity: A yellow truck with a hot dog stuck through the roof? C’mon guys, that’s just lazy.