Taste is first and foremost part of our sensory world, it is how we experience life almost as soon as we are born.

It would be fair to say, however, that in many ways this year has been somewhat of a sensory flop. We’ve all missed the sensation of a plane taking off, the sound and vibrations of live music, and even the sense of intimacy and anticipation felt bumping shoulders in a large crowd.

But, as John McQuaid argues in his book Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat, We owe our existence and our humanity to taste — and, in many ways our future depends on it, too.”

I’d say that this year, that couldn’t be truer.

It all started with comforting food

By way of coping with a huge amount of change and uncertainty in Spring, many of us, my family included, turned to food in search of simplicity, wholesomeness and comfort. A simple search for ‘banana bread’ on Google Trends will show you that searches skyrocketed in April this year. Interestingly, banana bread is said to have been particularly popular during the 1930s depression, due to the make-do sentiment of that era.

Taking the pragmatic approach to using up old ingredients as a good starting point, we have a huge amount of scope to explore how we design for food and drink as evolutionary tools.

The desire for food to take us on an adventure

Comfort aside, food also embodies experience and adventure. What would a holiday be without exploring a new culture through cuisine? With holidays and restaurants temporarily off limits this year, we found ways to transform our kitchens into experience destinations, turning food into our ticket to travel. Subscription box Wanda is one design solution that captured my attention. Unique in that it delivers not food, but menus, recipes and beautifully designed tableware that captures the soul of a different place each time by transforming the dinner table. How can we design experiences that have the power to elevate spaces, considering not only the product being sold, but the kitchen it will be arriving into, is the question we should now ask.

Increased need for sustainable packaging and traceable food

Packaging plays an important role in creating an evocative experience, particularly as we spend more time at home and more frequently opt for DTC services. There is an immediate need to innovate a virus resistant but sustainable material that works to protect our food, us and the planet. What if we could go a step further by creating scannable packaging that clearly communicates the journey the product has been on, helping us to forge deeper connections to where the ingredients were grown and by whom? A fantastic example of this is Elke Melk, a Dutch milk brand that ensures each bottle of milk is directly traceable to a single cow, connecting consumer to a trackable source.

The kitchen as an evolving space and a resourceful ecosystem

We are now increasingly seeing potential in the kitchen as a resourceful ecosystem that enables and empowers us to grow, store and preserve the food we eat, reducing our dependency on external, anonymous systems. As designers, we should be thinking about how we can encourage consumers to take control by creating simple and intuitive solutions that give people access to information and the tools they need to get the most from their food, throughout its lifecycle.  

Food as an empowering token of togetherness in precarious times

Talking of resourcefulness, societies have always found ways to pull together through the offering of food as a humble and nurturing token of togetherness. This year has been no different. American chef, Krystal Mack, has started an e-cookbook inspired by the way in which people are instinctively sharing recipes, and writes, “Community cookbooks are time capsules, so we can look back and see how we chose to survive and come together collectively.” In a similar vein, we’ve seen some of the world’s greatest chefs and restaurants dismantle the enigma that surrounds them by sharing their food – from their kitchen to ours.

Whilst I have sorely missed the spontaneity of interactions with friends and colleagues, I now get to experience most meals with my family, a privilege rarely afforded pre-Covid. As a father of two small children, food has been pivotal in helping us as a family to feel protected, nourished and centred.

In so many ways, food is the ultimate experience of great design. It’s about composition and balance; beginning with function and ending with something that can be truly exquisite and beautiful. It has the power to challenge and comfort us, responding to our needs, whilst fulfilling desires we perhaps didn’t previously know we had. It has the power to create memories that will last a lifetime, whilst telling stories about history, culture, technology, science and art. Taste tells us where we have come from and where we are heading next. I can’t think of a single designer in my team who wouldn’t – and doesn’t – relish the opportunity to design for a new era of taste in answer to our primal needs.