How studying design made me a better cook

Alexandra Grochowski
4 min readMay 26, 2020

I’ve always found extreme satisfaction in patterns. If you’re paying attention to patterns, you can learn a few values you can carry out in other aspects of your life. Reduce, reuse, recycle. So when I started to see how many of the lessons I learned from design have carried over to other practices, I was overjoyed.

Let’s talk about cooking. Before my design life, I was an okay cook. I could follow a recipe and make a pretty decent meal without drastically burning anything (most of the time). I even had a general sense of what spices, sauces, vegetables, and produce went well together. Once I began studying design, I learned some rules of thumb could be applied to cooking.

Less Is More

This is the concept that drove the “minimalism” phase we have seen on websites, in packaging, and even in interior design. This consists of just a few elements and a lot of white space. The idea is to keep removing things until right before the design breaks.

Example of Minimal Web Design

I began to see cooking in the same way. Your meal doesn’t necessarily improve the more ingredients you add to it. If you have something that’s getting a bit old but it doesn’t complement the rest of the ingredients, don’t. add. it. in. It will just overpower the ingredients that should be there. Making fried rice? Keep it simple and save the leftover asparagus you have for tomorrow’s meal. It’ll be ok.

3 Ingredient Pineapple Avocado Steak from Epicurious

Content First

One of the benefits of cooking is it’s a great way to save money on food. The best way to do this is to make the most of what you have in the fridge before you go out and buy more. If a meal gets too expensive, well… you might as well have just ordered in.

Content first design involves the use of content to define the layout and elements in a design. Basically, you work with what you’ve got unless there is something really essential missing, like sriracha. Sriracha is absolutely essential.

The key here is to gather your ingredients in the fridge and brainstorm different types of meals you can make with them. Have some broccoli and chicken? You’ve got quite a few options depending on what you’re feeling. If you’re not a recipe memory storing wizard, you can go online and find a recipe that already includes the ingredients you have. Refer to “Rule 1: Less is more” and find a relatively simple recipe. If you don’t have something you can go buy it or just choose not to include it (trust me, it probably won’t make much of a difference). There’s no need to start from scratch and go out and buy every single ingredient… unless you want to. I won’t tell.

Consider the Experience

In UX design, you need to consider all the details of the user experience if you want to avoid a disaster. This could mean everything from making sure all the pixels are aligned, to including a progress bar, to allowing the cart to save if the user leaves the site. You want to put yourself in the user’s shoes to really understand what they require for the product you’re creating.

Similarly while cooking, you need to consider that magic moment at the end when you will serve your meal. Make sure everything is warm when you serve it. This might require keeping some things in the oven while the others cook. Set the table, make a nice drink for the side. And make the presentation nice. Do you want the person to assemble their tacos themselves, or will you assemble it for them? Believe it or not, these things matter. Good presentation can really elevate a meal. There’s a reason meals taste so much better at the restaurant.

Can’t remember the last time I ate at a restaurant… shoutout COV-19. Photo Courtesy of Gwen Chicago

The benefits of understanding design will likely ripple through the rest of your life. How you cook, how you decorate your room, how you fold your laundry. If you’re a designer, what else has design changed for you?

Want to see another example? Read Brad Frost’s “Atomic Design”.