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January 21, 2020

Five Questions with Carolien Niebling: Designer & Food Futurist

From her very first job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant when she was 13 years old, Carolien Niebling embarked on a food-focused career, one that now creates a bridge between science and food, using design as the medium. A designer and researcher, Carolien graduated as a Master in Product Design from Ecole Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne (ECAL) and worked there as an assistant teacher. Her book, The Sausage of the Future, was published in 2017, and that same year she was awarded the Grand Prix at the Design Parade Villa Noailles, Hyères; the Hublot Design Prize; and Die Besten – Silber (2nd prize) Hochparterre. In 2019, her work was recognized with the Design Preis Schweiz in Research.

At In/Visible Talks 2020, Carolien, who lives and works in Zurich, Switzerland, joined Manuela King and Sophie Maxwell in a truly international panel discussion on “Keeping Our World Healthy Through Design”.

Here’s what drives her creative process.

What is your relationship to the creative process?

“Love and hate? I feel that the creative process can be fluid and great, but often it is in a rush or at the same time as other projects, and then it gets a little less straightforward. At the same time, I love working under a little pressure and making quick decisions. Funny thing is, I often go with the first sketch or idea I have, but to be sure it is the right one, I still go through the whole process of designing other versions. And I think it is very important to go through a wobbly up-and-down process, because you need to believe in the result, and that only works when you have considered other options and have consciously chosen the best-fitting solution.”

How or where do you find inspiration?

“Everywhere! That may be a common answer, but I am an observer and see inspiration all around. When I specifically have to look for information or inspiration, I love to read and go through books. I work around food, so some of my inspiration comes from high-end chefs.”

What was one of your biggest creative challenges?

“As a designer/researcher, one of my biggest challenges is to keep doing interesting public events or projects, to ‘be present’ to the world. But I would love to just hide away for a moment to do proper research for a next project, so I find that balance really challenging creatively. Also for the book I wrote, The Sausage of the Future, I had to work with many different disciplines. That was a challenge sometimes!”

When did you first realize you needed to be in a creative field?

“I think my parents always knew because I ‘created’ a lot of mess when I was a kid, but always in a very creative way. I chose to be creatively active in the food industry when I felt that I could do more for the planet in food than in furniture.”

Who is one of your heroes and why?

René Redzepi (head chef at Noma and founder of the Nordic Food Lab) is my absolute hero because he has taught me so much about food and processes, and he made me eat the best onion ever.”

Bonus Round: What drives you to create?

“Food. It is fascinating because it is an ever-evolving substance where development will never stop.”