It’s possible to design behaviours and perceptions… that’s what designers should do… You don’t change the world through ash trays and flower pots.
Martí Guixé designs edible objects. While this phrase might call to mind everyday items made from consumable material (rice paper or those candy necklaces given to children), what Martí means by it is the treatment of food itself as an object.
The Spanish (ex-)designer splits his time between Barcelona and Berlin, two cosmopolitan hubs of creativity. His studio is in Barcelona, but it was a three year stint in the German capital that changed his perspective on design. Having studied interior design in Barcelona, followed by an MA in product design in Milan in the 80s, Martí’s focus as a young designer was on mass production.
It was another time, you know? At that time, what interested me about being a designer was to design products that were mass produced - that was a sort of challenge for us as young designers, to make something that everyone uses.
With the advent of the internet and the acceleration of the post-industrial age, the appeal of mass production soon faded for Martí. He felt a change in the air when living in Berlin in the mid-90s, a shift that caused him to reconsider his approach to objects and his role in creating them.
Mass produced objects are almost always of a lower quality, so I’m not sure if mass production is something that still has value. I think small productions of objects dedicated to more targeted groups is a better way – local or social groups… During my time in Berlin I started thinking in a different way about creating products, or re-thinking product culture.
It was his roots in mass production though, that influenced Martí’s movement into the design of food. The moment of inspiration came when Martí realised that though food is one of the most commonly mass produced items, it isn't treated as an object for design. His work with food design started in 1996 and he became a pioneer of the movement.
I realised that nobody looks at food as an object. So, I think of it as such – I call it an ‘edible object’. Because if you have an object, you can design it within the parameters of usability and ergonomics, all these things. So I started to design food. It has nothing to do with creative gastronomy or show cooking - it’s about edible objects that are intended for people to eat.
I think it’s important because traditional food is not adapted to our way of life. Let’s say that a chair is designed for your body – well, food is not designed for your body in terms of ergonomics or usability. I’m still attending events where you have to have a dish and you can’t move because you drop the food… that’s because there’s a mistake in the usability. They didn’t adapt the food to the situation, so you as the user have to adapt to the food.
Martí’s interest in designing food does not extend to the ingredients or packaging – for him, this is the remit of the chef or food producer and not his area of specialism. He draws a parallel with a furniture designer who knows nothing of plastic injection and so works with an engineer, or an architect who designs a house but doesn’t lay the brick. In his view, the design of the flavours and ingredients of food has been covered by nutritionists and chefs – it has already been designed for the inside of the body. What Martí is interested in is the design of food for the outside of the body – for the way we engage with it before tasting and digestion. His hope is that he will ultimately be able to move his ideas out of the gallery and onto people's plates - or into their stomachs via another means not yet designed.
He's often asked about his self-appointed title of 'ex-designer', a term he coined in 2003 to express his position within the industry. His interests are broad – he calls himself a generalist working with ideas and concepts rather than a specialist working within a particular technique or material. He feels that the designation has sparked a movement - he sees more and more designers working in non-design areas where their design training is applied and apparent.
We are no longer in an industrial society. Design doesn’t need to be focused on shapes – you can design, for example, Sunday evening as a protocol. You can design behaviours or perceptions – that’s what designers should do. You design fictions, things to change the world, but you don’t need to change the world through ash trays and flower pots.
I think there’s really a big change happening at the moment – everything is moving towards design.
Martí Guixé’s work is currently being exhibited in the National Craft Gallery, Kilkenny as part of 'Appetite for Design', a unique exhibition that explores the design of methods and spaces where food is processed, distributed and consumed. A series of carefully curated eating experiences will accompany the exhibition.
For more details about the exhibition, and to book tickets to the eating experiences, go here.
Martí will also be giving a talk tomorrow, May 16th, at the Samuel Beckett Theatre from 11.30am - 12.45pm. The talk is a free, ticketed event. For more details, go here.
Words by Rachel Donnelly.