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 Cooking Lessons for Designers by Ryan Freitas thinking Photos by Mike Pihulic landscape where only the tastemakers and trendsetters survive. Three years have passed since my last night in a professional kitchen. While I’ve kept my knives sharp, since then I’ve been flexing other creative muscles: I joined Adaptive Path, a design firm that has flourished as the big brands increasingly embrace user-centered design. My time in the Sizzling Summer 2007 Ambidextrous 43 kitchen shaped how I respond now to challenges in an industry that is dependent on creative services. 1 Order and Discipline are not Natural Enemies of Creative Processes There is often a misconception that structure gets in the way of generating new ideas. The kitchen taught me that the creative process thrives under constraint and that a little discipline helps more ideas make it to the table. The most creative of chefs are renowned as much for their food as for the way they run their kitchens. Lisa Lu, the pastry sous chef at Quince in San Francisco, told me that “great restaurants devote themselves to two ideals: consistency and quality.” To safeguard these ideals, chefs oversee staffs under the “brigade system,” so called because of the strict chain of command, uniform, and well-defined role in which each player engages in executing collective creative excellence. Uniforms and shouted orders are likely a hard sell to designers, but I’ve found three other lessons translate well from the kitchen to the design studio.
2 Keep Your Eye on the Clock Chefs know that the pressure of a ticking clock can inspire cooks to accomplish what seemed impossible at the start of a dinner rush. At Adaptive Path, I advocate “timeboxing”: the setting of artificial time constraints for tasks like brainstorming and issue resolution. The objective is to cut down on exhaustive consideration of endless possibilities. With pressure to stay focused and disciplined, we can reduce the amount of time it takes to reach consensus. More importantly, we have found that decisive choices in the concept phase generate momentum that carries us swiftly through the design process.