Tutorial 9th March 2011

I had a really interesting (and extended) tutorial with John today. I took in the rough mock-ups of the two books that I have been working on, Sunday Lunch and the vegetarian option, Ratatouille. It was a really good move to take in the books, even in their unfinished state, as they helped to explain what I had been trying to articulate in the last tutorial.

In the last tutorial John had asked me what my outcome of the major project would be; he asked if it was going to be, as most cook books are, 'images with some nice type'. If I'm being honest, I do want to make something that's nice to look at. I think most designers want to make things that are nice to look at, we want to shape the world as we would like to see it. But I understand that this project has to be more than that. John's final suggestion was that I needed to have an opinion or position about cook books.

As I said in my last post, informed by my written audit of cook books, I have been thinking more about cook books, particularly about my position. One of the 'problems' I have found is that cook books seem to be more about looking than cooking: as cook books become more lavish in production values with ever-more seductive photography, the instructional, functional aspect of cook books has, I would argue, become marginalised. Cook books are big business: in the top 50 bestselling books of 1998-2010, Delia Smith's How to Cook, Book One appears at number 39, paradoxically, the UK is by far the biggest market in Europe for ready meals, accounting for 49 per cent of all sales.

With the two books that I have made, I wanted to think about how design could show cooking as a temporal process, as something with a beginning, a middle and an end rather than the instant gratification of an image of a finished meal typically found in most contemporary cook books. For me, to start making things, has been a really useful exercise: though I sometimes try to resist it, I've a tendency to do my best thinking when I'm doing something creative. I realise that I have only just started to scratch the surface of the temporal aspect of the cook book, my next test will be to extend the time element of the book even further: I think it would be interesting to stretch a recipe through an entire book, to use the linearity inherent in the book format, to suggest time, so five pages might represent the five minutes it takes to brown off the meat for a stew and sixty pages might represent the hour that the stew cooks in the oven.

I realise that the books I have just produced, and some of the ideas that I am thinking through, might not work in the 'real' or commercial world but I'm not sure that really matters. This is not a campaign to get people cooking, to make a cook book that encourages people to cook, rather, I intend to look at the potential of graphic design to communicate meaning in books, using cook books as a starting point and I think that might involve making things that exist in space that is not the usual space that cook books inhabit. As I keep re-iterating, my intention in doing the MA is to better understand how graphic design communicates meaning; to be able to articulate how graphic design communicates meaning and to better understand my design decisions.

I'm finding it really interesting that my analysis of cook books has touched on branding: Delia, Hugh, Jamie, Nigel and Nigella are food writers and cooks who have become recognisable brands and their brand is amplified through the design of their books. By looking closely at the typography, imagery and graphic language presented in the specificity of cook books, I am hoping to understand how graphic design communicates in a more general sense. It has been really useful to look closely at these books, to articulate how design is used to create the brand of the particular writer and how that brand relates, on the part of the reader, to an aspirational lifestyle. I am aware that most of the books that I have written about have been more towards the 'top end', well-known celebrity chefs whose books epitomise personality publishing. I intend to cast my net further, to look at cook books that are not ones that are not about my particular tastes but, for now, my choice of books is a very personal one.

In a conversation last night, about the Sunday Lunch book, Maria made a connection between that book and the Dracula book I made for the visual storytelling elective; John also made the storytelling connection when we started to unpack the things that cook books represent. I think this is potentially really interesting - stories are embodied in food in so many ways: social, cultural and class histories; family (hi)stories; branding as storytelling (the aspirational element of cook books and of top end ranges such as 'Tesco Finest' and 'Sainsbury's Taste the Difference'. I'm going to think a bit more about some of the avenues that I might explore.

I've been thinking about an idea for a recipe that exists as a kind of map, offering choices along the way that allow the reader to create different dishes depending on which path they choose. I imagine it starting with an onion (as most recipes do) and developing from there; the left-hand choice might be 'continue frying onion then add stock' to create French Onion Soup, the right-hand path could be to 'add peppers, courgettes etc' to make Ratatouille.

I also need to think a bit more about form. One of my initial ideas had been to make a poster, to follow on from my work for Design and Rhetoric. I'm not sure how practical a poster would be as something you would follow a recipe from but I do like the idea of a poster that uses type as image to suggest an idea of a dish. John thought that a newspaper format might be a good antidote to aspirational coffee table cook books. I like this idea. There's the immediate connection of fish and chips eaten out of newspapers; I also like the disposability of newspapers, something that has a lifespan of one day. The format could include a daily recipe, a shopping list, instructions, writing about food, wine suggestions, history etc all contained in a format that gets used then thrown in the recycling box.

There is a lot to think about and a lot to do. The two books have been printed and have been despatched - I'm looking forward to seeing them and thinking about what I am going to do next.




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