Designers and Chefs

“Rules? There are no rules. Do whatever you want.”

— Grant Achatz, A Chef’s Table (2×01)

In a recent newsletter, Tobias van Schneider talked about his fascination with chefs. While designers get pushed towards management as their careers progress, chefs continue cooking. They don’t put down their knives when they run a restaurant; they continue to create and innovate and push boundaries. It’s something many designers aspire to, but rarely accomplish.

I’m also fascinated and inspired by chefs. I love food and I love eating. I love cooking, too, though my skills there are average. When I watch documentaries about chefs (I’ve recently been enjoying season 2 of Chef’s Table) I see a lot of parallels between cooking and designing. Maybe it’s because both are “craft” fields. We’re both creative; we both make. When I listen to Grant Achatz, Dan Barber, Ed Lee, and April Bloomfield talk about cooking, I’m reminded of designers in similar positions: Eric Meyer, Frank Chimero, John Maeda… I see in them a kind of creative thinking I aspire to achieve. Their journeys resonate.

People have been cooking for the whole of human history. Somehow, we’re still discovering new flavor combinations, new dishes, new techniques for cooking. There’s always more room for experimentation and innovation.

Web design has been around for what — 25 years? It’s younger than I am (what a weird thought). It builds upon a hundred years of graphic design, hundreds more years of printing, but as a whole feels like a young field. (Maybe that’s just my inadequate grasp on art history. Guess I should have taken a class in college.) Our medium is always evolving. What I’m designing now might not even be relevant in a couple years, when we move on to new interfaces. Digital design is a moving target, and that makes it super exciting.

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