Design Thinking: Veganism, Constraints & Innovation

I’m not a vegan, but I play one in design thinking workshops. Why? Vegan cuisine is a great example of design constraints in action.

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My “frustrated” face

Over the years I’ve handed down a lot of design assignments to students and workshop participants. These assignments range from “ideate something that can happen on a cell phone that would help a new person feel welcome in your city” to “create a time-keeping device¬†that expresses your future career goals.” Whatever the goal of the assignment, the reaction is typically the same: people are frustrated by constraints.

When I tell students that their time-keeping device can only be made out of the six objects in the box in front of them (including a rock and a piece of red string), they immediately ask about adding additional items. When I tell workshop participants that their “welcome wagon” must include a cell phone interaction, they ask about building a community center. Some people – at this exact moment in their relationship with me – probably look at me and think What a crazy jerk. If only she’d let me use my idea it would be so good!

So why do I try to constrain design in specific and often weird ways? Because the alternative is watching people flounder for inspiration, stick to what they already know, or bite off more than they can chew. Providing clear and often extreme restraints in a design exercise is the same as guiding a graduate student to pick a very specific thesis topic: it clarifies the work in the long run and prevents important discoveries from being lost under a mountain of other information. In my experience (and I’m probably biased) by the end of these projects, learners see the value of those tight, strange guidelines they were given.

At this point, you’re probably wondering when I’m going to talk about veganism… Well, here it is. I think vegan cuisine makes an excellent case study of how seemingly extreme constraints can lead to a flourishing of innovative solutions.

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Au Pif: Sprouts, Florets, & Seeds

When my food hero David Lebovitz posted a picture of these sprouts from his own farmers market in Paris and asked for advice, I couldn’t help but write up this quick and easy recipe.

When you name your cooking series Au Pif because of David Lebovitz, and then the man himself asks for food insights on Instagram, and you happen to have exactly that recipe from last week… David, if you read this, thanks for all the inspiration. I hope you enjoy your kale flower sprouts!

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You may remember these little nuggets of green goodness from a previous Local Market post. According to the vendor, they are “flower sprouts,” and a cross between kale and brussels sprouts. I was advised to either steam or roast them and I chose roast. Since I had a head of cauliflower to use up, I decided to quickly roast everything together one cold weeknight last week. ¬†When my food hero David Lebovitz posted a picture of the same sprouts from his own farmers market in Paris and asked for advice, I couldn’t help but write up this quick and easy recipe.

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Au Pif: Chard Frittata

Frittata are easy, gluten-free, and easy to have vegetarian. Get my recipe here.

I love vegetables, and the tender, colorful leaves of rainbow chard are high on the list of things that set my heart aflutter. When I saw a few succulent bunches at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market this past weekend, I grabbed one right away and held on to it like a bridal bouquet.

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One of my favorite ways to use chard, spinach, kale, and other leafy greens is in a quiche or a frittata. I find the vegetal, iron flavor of the greens pairs very well with the rich taste of eggs.

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