Tutorial 29th June 2011

I had a very lively discussion with John today. As he'd not been present at the half-way presentation and crit two weeks ago, I brought him up to date with the feedback from the other tutors, concentrating in particular on the need to find a specific audience, with specific needs, for my final outcome. I am finding it hard to decide on an audience. I don't want to do something that it is too 'worthy': there's a danger, that without thorough research, that a project that addresses the perceived specific needs of say, a minority audience, could end up being patronising or tokenistic, making assumptions about the needs of that audience. Likewise, I don't want to do something too trite: there are plenty of cook books that concentrate on particular demographics but they often make generalisations about their audience in order to make the books palatable to a wider audience.

A further concern is that I want the outcome to be print-based: a book, newspaper, poster, recipe cards or something. One strand of my research question is about typography; the construction of language; and how typography aids the understanding of a text: it's important that I can use my research so far to use and develop my typographic skills. I have got limited time, so, if the best method to communicate to a particular audience is via an iPad, for example, then that is not going to be appropriate as I don't have time to learn new skills in the time left.

Some of the audience ideas that we brainstormed today were:

Blind people. We talked through the specific problems that blind cooks might face and how these could be helped by a cook book - obviously the assumption here is that the cook book is written in braille. Problems that could occur are to do with terms such as 'fry the onions until brown' which is usually signified by a visual clue - for blind people, cooking timings, quantities and heats would have to be more specific: 'Fry sliced onions in a teaspoon of oil over a medium heat for five minutes'. Other hints could be given by sound or by smell: 'When the pan is at the correct temperature the onions will sizzle quietly; once they begin to brown they will start to lose their acrid smell and begin to smell sweet as the sugars caramelise'. My initial thoughts to the needs of the blind cook are to do with the language of cooking so I think that a book may not be the best format - an audio book, or iPad app may be more appropriate and useful for the specific needs of blind people. I need to investigate what information and resources already exist for the blind cook.

Men who can't/won't cook. I think there is some mileage in this idea: the responses to the Roastpaper project have all been from women and most of the animated discussions I have had about cooking have been with women. Men do cook but, I wonder if it's a different type of cooking: showing off with complicated dinner party dishes or the machismo of the barbeque whereas women cook to nurture, either in the sense of nurturing a family or nurturing friendships. This, obviously, is a terrible generalisation that is potentially problematic but I think there is something in the fact that many men I have spoken to have no interest in cooking or lack confidence to cook because they don't have the basic skills or understanding of the vocabulary of cooking (some women I have spoken to also feel this way). A cook book that explains in a simple clear way how to cook basic dishes using a language appropriate to men (whatever that might be) could be a way forward.

Lorry drivers. This was a slightly crazy idea that came out of several other ideas: thinking about a cook book for men; concentrating on a particular audience; thinking about niche markets; thinking about cooking with limited means. Would it be possible to think of some recipes that lorry drivers could cook in their cabs or at the roadside? What would the limitations be? Would such a book really be of use to lorry drivers? Realistically, I imagine that, if you've spent eight hours driving a lorry, that even the Little Chef is far more appealing than the confines of your cab so this book may not appeal to its target audience. Would such a book end up being a novelty item, a book that is given as a gift but not used as a reference book for cooking. How could you make sure that it was used?

Elderly people. The elderly have very specific needs that all across a wide spectrum of issues: mobility; agility; loss of vision; dietary requirements. I've done a little bit of research: most of the information that I have found relates to cooking for the elderly - the specifics of dietary requirements and palatability of food. I have found little that addresses the basic needs of elderly people cooking for themselves: what to cook if you have limited mobility and cannot stand for long - or if you have limited agility and cannot open jars or are unable to lift a pan of vegetables to drain them over the sink. Again, this is a big assumption: many old people are healthy and strong and are able to cook for themselves but many cannot. It could be interesting to look at the information about nutrition for the elderly and translate that into a healthy eating cook book aimed at that audience. It could also be useful to make a cook book aimed at older people living on their own: it's difficult to get motivated to cook for yourself - a cook book of easy and simple recipes for one person, that addresses the needs of older people might be a way forward. Thinking too about men who don't cook, perhaps an audience could be widowers: men of the older generation have often never cooked, who have relied on their wives to cook - a simple, step by step guide could be useful.

Children/Teenagers. I'm not particularly interested in making a cook book for children but I am interested in the idea of cooking as a life skill. John and I talked about the idea of cooking as a journey: you learn a technique, master it, add another technique and so, as your cooking vocabulary builds, the dishes that you cook become more sophisticated. If you lack these basic skills then you probably will have a fear of cooking. Children who are taught cooking at an early are are probably more likely to cook as teenagers and, in turn, become confident adult cooks. What are the basic skills needed to be able to cook with confidence? Would it be possible to make a kind of scrapbook that represents someone's life journey in food?

Students. Students have specific needs. For many students, this is the first time that they have had to shop and cook for themselves. Student accommodation is notorious for having basic cooking facilities and a lack of equipment. Add to this, a limited income and you can see that the needs of students are for simple, easy to prepare nutritious food that can be quickly prepared with minimal equipment in rudimentary kitchens.

People with limited means. Limited means could be defined as having no money or having limited cooking facilities and equipment. Jamie Oliver and others have shown that it is possible to eat well on a limited budget. Projects such as Jamie Oliver's 'Ministry of Food' can make the assumption that people on limited budgets have access to fresh fruit and vegetables whereas the reality is often that, in poorer areas, supermarkets are more likely to be stacked up with discounted processed convenience foods. Likewise the idea that people can save money by buying cheaper cuts of meat and cooking them for longer or by buying cheap bags of beans and pulses which require long periods of cooking does not take into account the cost of fuel or that people living in hostels or shared accommodation may have limited time in the kitchen and so long cooking periods are not an option.

People with limited means could be further defined; some of the demographics that could be explored as potential audiences for cook books are itinerant workers, homeless people, refugees, battered wives etc. However, I feel wary about focusing on these audiences because it would be difficult, without extensive research - and involvement from these groups - to make a book that truly addressed them without generalising about the audience. These individual groups are not homogenous other than an assumed shared lack of money, cooking facilities and cooking equipment. Once again, the need of this group can be boiled down to simple, easy to prepare food that is inexpensive, quick to make and does not require anything beyond basic equipment.

So, having gone all around the houses with John and with various other people, it keeps coming back to this basic idea of quick, simple, easy to prepare food that is inexpensive and does not need masses of equipment. The questions I need to ask are:
  • How can I make these ideas relate to a specific audience?
  • Which of the above audiences is the most appropriate?
  • Which is the most interesting?
  • How does visual language address different audiences?
  • How can I develop a visual language which addresses that particular audience?
  • How can I use graphic design to express simplicity?
  • How can I use graphic design to best present recipes?

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