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The Theory: Playing With Food

Updated: Nov 8, 2018

Savory. Sweet. Scrumptious. Flavorful. Fragrant…Hungry yet?

Designs that involve food have the unique job of engaging viewers’ senses and getting their tastebuds tingling to try or buy the product pictured. Whether on restaurant menus, packaging, or advertisements, food imagery needs to make the most of qualities like color, texture, and shape to look as appealing as possible. We’ve compiled some samples that show what’s possible in this category and offer up ideas and techniques that you can apply yourself.

01. Go for the Unexpected

An over-easy egg in the shape of the state of Maine — not something you see everyday. But for a magazine issue that’s about the best places for breakfast in Maine, what better imagery to sum up the subject?

When you’re able to use a surprising presentation that’s also highly appropriate for your subject, you’ll have a more memorable design. (Lettering by Angela Southern).

02. Layer with Typography

These posters for Pop-Up Kitchen, an annual brunch event held in New York City, were designed by Cheungyoon Kim (with photography by Alex Choi). The team collaborated with students from the Culinary Institute of America to visualize food as art.

The result is a layered pairing of imagery and typography where the two elements form a dynamic composition.

03. Play With Depth of Field

Depth of field is a classic photography principle that often involves blurring to direct viewers’ focus. Here, Alberto Conti’s website design creates a sense of depth by mimicking how our vision (or a camera lens) works.

This technique directs your attention to the product photos and description in the center of each section.

04. Emphasize Textures

Here, Michael McNeive has made the distinctive texture of kale a focal point of his landing page about superfoods. That the rest of design is rather minimal makes the colors and texture stand out even more.

05. Focus On Presentation

Here, a Bon Appetit magazine cover (art directed by Matthew Lenning) zooms in an oversized sandwich— a creative presentation much more interesting than a sandwich and fries on a plate — to represent one of the issue’s featured meals.

06. Create Movement

Stefan Poulos’ designs for a restaurant’s ad campaign create implied movement simply through the placement of the food being photographed.

A sense of movement — whether more literal as here, or just through the placement of items on a page (vertical or diagonal movement, etc.) — can lend extra visual interest to a simple design.

07. Be Approachable

BigFan’s work for the BBC on a campaign intended to encourage families to cook healthy meals at home features a fresh and friendly style.

The look, with pops of bright color and custom illustrations, was created to be approachable and uncomplicated, with easy-to-follow recipes that are invitingly designed rather than intimidating.

08. Make it Minimal

In contrast, these minimal fruit and vegetable posters by Yum Tang show fresh produce in all their colorful glory. Sometimes it’s the simple design solutions that are the most striking.

09. Coordinate Your Colors

Dave Brady’s fun, colorful compositions for Heinz pasta sauces feature both food items and kitchen implements in matching colors. Both the colors and shapes visually represent the main ingredient in the sauce.

10. Include Pops of Color

Unlike many of the other examples we’ve looked at, this packaging design from Jeremy Cheramy uses food imagery more as an accent to the overall design than as the overwhelming focal point — providing a pop of color against a primarily white background.

The Wrap

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