“Food is often the way to “knock” and engage a community. We all bring wine or a dish to thank friends or family for hosting. We eat with new friends to ritualize and legitimize our engagement, even if we don’t really like the particular dishes.”
This quote comes from Bruce Nussbaum’s book “Creative Intelligence” in reference to culturally responsive design strategies. After describing his first necessary taste of Monkey Brains…..yes, monkey brains in the Philippines, as a Peace Corps volunteer, he talks about how Lenovo reached a rural audience and marketed their computers better than HP and Dell. Here’s how Nussbaum explains the strategy of “knocking,”
“According to Fast Company, in rural China, people frequently buy PCs as wedding gifts. A computer purchase is not merely a market transaction, based on price; it’s a gift that provides the foundation for a lifetime of social interactions between two families. So the box, the packaging, the entire presentation, is crucial. By making the box representative of the gift it contained, Lenovo was able to capture more of the rural market than HP — a knock worth hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.”
Food as social and commercial strategy emphasizes and validates culturally shared experiences, even if different from our own cultures. The theatrical performance of the Lenovo box as a component of a wedding ritual conveys cultural respect, just as eating monkey brains. It may or may not influence our own tastes or meaning. I don’t think Nussbauam eats monkey brains habitually now. The gesture is enough. One does not need to like monkey brains in order to connect with those who do. But…….one has to at least try it, once. In the case of Lenovo….it wasn’t even the meal but the platter that made all the difference. So much of what designers do involves the aesthetic (articulate and material) presentation of constructed meaning. Food helps us practice the skill of human generosity. Makes me want to host a party! Would paper plates imply disrespect? Maybe not the well designed ones…….