The Future of Workplace Eating

Client: NESTA Foundation, London

Work Conducted: Summer 2016

Each year, Nesta develops a set of future predictions about what kinds of design and innovation society and culture is likely to be facing. The futures team were particularly interested in exploring some of the dimensions of workplace eating, how it is developing and how it might be improved. As work practices change, so do eating routines, and many companies and employers are always faced with questions of how to develop social and physical infrastructures of eating and food. At the present moment, working practices, particularly in offices, are facing many choices as to the future of workplace eating. Diets and food preferences are increasingly diverse, and the responsibility for ensuring somebody eats may be shifting, between employer and employed. Many working cultures are potentially antithetical to wellbeing, with more office workers for example eating at their desks when a break to eat would be better for them. How people eat at work is central to wellbeing.


The Cartogram of Commensality


The work developed in three distinct phases.

First of all, the team developed connections with different companies, and decided to develop some models of potential “future foods”, as a talking point for striking up discussions on food preferences. A range of coloured models of imaginary future food were made, which aimed to present eating as “fun”.

Following this brief initial phase, the team learned that when people think about wellbeing and eating, often they do not think about the actual food they are eating. Rather, they tend to evoke the places they eat. Greenery, space, air and atmosphere were described by people. They did not tend to specify what sort of meal they wanted, hot or cold, sandwich or pasta. Rather, they talked of where they might eat.




“My best lunch”


In the second phase of work, the team spent longer periods of time with informants in different workplaces. They tried to fit in with eating schedules, meeting people at canteens or in breaks, and talking about different kinds of places they might break for lunch. For this work, four contrasting companies were selected, who represented large and small workplaces. The team encouraged people to develop “collages” which represented how they imagined the best and worst kinds of workplace eating, using images from a range of magazines.


“My worst lunch”


This deeper second phase of the work therefore aimed to uncover a range of different kinds of workplace eating cultures, choices, and imaginaries. It did not aim to decide on one conclusive proposal. Rather, it aimed to broaden the notions of space and place which had emerged as central in the first phase.

In the third phase of the work, the team considered how to represent and think about the range of eating possibilites which they had uncovered. For this, they developed the “Cartogram of Commensality” for Nesta. More details can be found on their blog:


The Cartogram of Commensality

Work conducted by: Hilary Prosser, Tiffany Lee, Sakti Ramadhan, Rosa Grossman

Clients: Louise Marston, Jessica Bland, NESTA.



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