Cooking Up a Design

Ryan Freitas, whose culinary wisdom I can personally vouch for, just shared some insights into his idea that designers can learn a lot from the discipline of a well-run kitchen.

Ambidextrous - Cooking and Design

The article in Ambidextrous magazine (download the three-page PDF, it should only take a minute) starts with a simple parallel between the two disciplines:

With careers as an interaction designer and a professional cook (sometimes simultaneously), I’ve noticed striking similarities between the design studio and the kitchen. Like their peers in design, chefs are under constant creative and competitive pressure to execute and innovate. Both professionals service an increasingly savvy customer base in a public landscape where only the tastemakers and trendsetters survive.

Though it’s not mentioned in Ryan’s article, the most relevant concept to me seemed to be the idea of mise en place, which is basically the discipline that good cooks have of preparing all of their requirements at the ready and properly placed when they begin to prepare a dish. From ingredients to utensils to preparation surfaces to oven temperature, getting everything lined up perfectly means a chef never has to pause to take care of preliminaries while in the midst of creating a meal.

I’m far from a serious cook myself, but I’ve found that keeping mise in mind when getting ready to cook something forces me to have to actually think through every step of the task I’m about to perform. So it’s not merely that all the ingredients are chopped up, it’s that knowing what to chop, and how much, makes it imperative that I’m keeping a mental image of the entire process in the front of my mind.

And good design mimics this process by giving you an experience that anticipates mise en place. You find, in the course of using a tool or performing a task, that a designed has thought through the entire process of your task at hand and placed the information and raw materials you need right where you’ll need them. Delicious!