Dessert-Design -- The Art of Touching All Five Senses!

Co written by Dr. Jaewoo Joo

Delicious, beautiful, crisp, aromatic and crusty dessert creations engage all our senses and make us briefly forget the world around us. Great desserts are even named after famous people, such as Sara Bernhard and Napoleon. Some manage to capture a regional spirit, such as a "Danish," a "Berliner" and "Swedish pancakes." Can designers create breakthrough desserts or is this job best left for the pastry professionals?

At a cognitive science conference at Sogang University in Seoul, we challenged designers and researchers to apply all their skills and create a memorable dessert that could surpass even a Tiramisu. The objective, besides providing tasty desserts, was to examine whether initially inspiring their five senses enhanced creativity and improved the quality of their outcomes.

Participants received a 20-minute entertaining but meaningless presentation on dessert and then they were randomly divided into two groups. One group was served four different dessert ingredients (strawberries, oranges, chocolates and apples) during the presentation. The second group, the control group, was passed over and after the presentation they were apologetically told that the organizers had run out of food.

Following the priming, the participants were given thirty minutes to create a dessert and were left alone to enjoy their creative processes. Then, each participant presented their desserts in images and words and the other participants judged its quality along with novelty, usefulness and expected tastiness. What actually happened floored us.

Disastrously, roughly half of the participants bailed halfway though the dessert creation process. However, while munching on desserts during the presentation seemed to improve participant retention, it had little influence on novelty or tastiness. Of course, with only eight desserts to evaluate no fine-grained results were to be expected and experiments do not always go according to plan.

That may have been a good thing though, because the desserts the remaining participants created actually blew us away. One particularly memorable dessert consisted of a frozen strawberry elephant covered in chocolate, resulting in the shape of a brown hat, or a snake that had just swallowed an elephant.

Breakthrough innovation occurs when knowledge and experiences from vastly disparate areas are synthesized into new solutions. In this particular instance, someone from a Korean cultural background had combined "The Little Prince" by the French aristocrat, writer, poet and aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, with a dessert entree, a course that is still relatively new to Korean culture. Not even the French could have come up with that combination!

Answering the initial question inequitably -- yes, designers seem to be able to create innovative concepts in areas outside their specific area of competencies. That is if they, along with everyone else, are willing overcome their vanity and fear of being judged by others, especially their peers.

Is an increased sensitivity the reason why designers prefer to cave in or to perfect a solution before sharing it? How often has this inhibited designers from contributing to group meeting and brainstorming sessions?

Or, shall we just say that sometime a dessert is just a dessert!

Special thanks to Dr. Jaewoo Joo for researching and co-writing this article.