Thoughts on design for advanced manufacturing, and also, why this picture and headline made me angry
For most people, the answer is naturally NO!. This was the most popular response on my friend's, Additive Manufacturing guru, Tuan Tranpham, when he posted it on LinkedIn.
But why did the editor of this publication, and then, Tuan's LinkedIn followers think this is not addible, or maybe even worse? They did not think that, because they tasted it and did not like the flavor or texture, and not because they know that its nutritional values are inferior to slaughtered meat. They dismissed the option of eating the food displayed in this image because it does not look like the "real thing". It does not look like the "real thing", mostly, because it is not and also because whoever decided to take this picture as representing the product, manipulated the product to make it look bad (thinking of this if you do not ignore what it really is, looking at a real steak on your plate, doesn't
it then look worse than the product in this image?). We are used to layers in lasagna, cakes, and even Turkish doner-kebab, but not in a steak (personally, I never tried to slice a steak and do to it the same as done to the product in the picture).
Please do not stop reading now - I am not trying to make convert you to be a vegan or vegetarian - I am trying to get to the question of whether products that are manufactured using advanced manufacturing methods, should mimic the look of the same product if manufactured using traditional methods? For sure we want to preserve and even improve the functionality of the product, by manufacturing is using advanced methods. Is the traditional design of the product really a material part of its definition as that product?
Must a chair really have four legs to be a chair? Yes, unless a different design will still preserve its functionality as a chair. It has been proven, that different materials enable the creation of well-functioning chairs that have different structures.
I dare to claim, that much of products' designs are determined by constraints of the technology being used to manufacture them. We then get used to the constraints-driven design and attribute to it, importance that should not exist.
Back to the plant-based "steak": the target audience of plant-based meat substitutes is not vegans and vegetarians - it is made in order to make carnivores replace (at least partially) slaughtered meat with these substitutes. Why? mostly because it has been well established, that the animal-based meat industry is wasteful and very bad for our planet. Vegans and vegetarians do not need their proteins, fibers & fat to look like meat: cubes of tofu are satisfactory these people, even do not look for the taste or texture of meat - they are not interested in meat...). Carnivores, on the other hand, in order for them to give up the "real thing", the substitute should mimic the taste, texture, and look of meat. This is why plant-based meat substitutes startups are dedicating so much effort to making their products mimic meat. Imagine that for some reason, tomorrow, the entire animal-based meat industry disappears; people who will be born from after tomorrow onwards will have no passion to eat something that looks like a cut of an animal's body. In such a "brave new world", no significance at all, will be attributed to whether the dish of the proteins, fiber, and fat consumed, looks like a steak. Until then, these companies, in order to meet their targets and fulfill their vision, will have to invest in making their food look like the real thing. The meat substitutes' vendors will surely improve in this aspect over time. Also, some more environmental awareness and the inevitable rise in the cost of meat will encourage people to consume more of these products that will become mainstream.
Back to products design, the more young designers will adopt advanced manufacturing methods, and be less aware of traditional manufacturing constraints, THINGs will have the same, or better functionality, might be more affordable, have additional advantages (such as more efficient supply chains, lower carbon footprint, customization, and personalization etc.) and a whole different look.
Formula 1 cars are a great example of how by having design constraints removed, the design is continuously changing, thus improving the product functionality.
I have not yet tasted any Redefine Meat products. I hear they are the "real thing". I promise that when I get such a "steak" on my plate, I will appreciate the taste and overall eating experience, and certainly not stretch the slice to make it look odd - I have been raised to not play with food...