4 Ideas to Steal From IDEO’s Test Kitchen

4 Ideas to Steal From IDEO’s Test Kitchen

Here's what it looks like when design thinking enters the kitchen
Rachel Maloney
Josh Harding
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Build to think. That mantra is imprinted on our brains from the moment we walk through the doors at IDEO. In our Design for Food Studio, we build by cooking. And just as our shop guys need to be able to make noise and be surrounded by their tools, we need a kitchen that inspires us creatively, adapts to our needs, and demonstrates to clients how we prototype in a tangible way.

We decided to transform our drab and sterile office kitchenette (not the main one where the rest of the office eats) into a space that could be both a chef’s and a designer’s paradise—a space that actually asks you to play with your food.

The food industry is evolving like never before, and even at-home chefs are becoming more experimental. So, if you work in food or are outgrowing your home kitchen, here are a few ideas you might want to take to-go.

Custom "pegboard" walls allow for easily moveable shelves.

Our Top 4 Kitchen Design Rules:

1. Keep it versatile

A kitchen should be beautiful, but it should also feel like a blank canvas upon which wild ideas can be cooked up.

Our first priority was to create a clean, open space where different project teams could come in and set up how they see fit.

Since we only had a small space to work with, keeping the floor plan bright, open, and versatile was crucial to avoid feeling like we're cooking in a dark closet.

The main wall above the sink is made from plywood panels cut with a CNC machine to look more like pegboard. The design, which uses movable dowels, makes it easy to add or adjust shelves to meet the needs of the cooks.

The counter doubles as an island with stools so the chef can face out and chat while prepping ingredients.

2. Design for conversation and collaboration

Making the IDEO community feel connected to what we’re doing is just as important as being able to showcase our work.

While much of what we do is prototyping food on a near-scientific scale, we wanted our space to feel less like a lab and more like a home, with a warm, inviting color palette and wooden stools at the counter to sit and have a chat.

Even though it’s not technically a kitchen island, that counter was added with the same intent: to create smaller, more intimate spaces for the chef, but also allow them to face out to the space and chat with people sitting on stools on the other side. This always seems to be the gathering place in everyone’s kitchen.

3. Don’t try to do it all

The problem with redesigning a kitchen is that you never know how you’re going to use the space until you start using it.

We could have spent months iterating and reiterating on the floor plan, making sure every last knob was perfectly placed. Instead, we kept it simple, moved fast, and left room for modifications that we’ll inevitably need as the food industry continues to evolve.

This helped us save on upfront costs, and allowed us to finish the renovation much sooner.

4. Let the food speak for itself

Above all, we wanted the space to reflect how we feel about food, rather than distract from it. Sleek, minimalist design and large, neutral counter tops allow the inherent beauty of food to shine through.

I intentionally kept as many of the built elements—like the bookshelves—as low as possible. This makes the space feel more open and larger than it is. This is key when dealing with small spaces. Your eye goes to the long horizontal surfaces, elongating the space, as opposed to being confronted with tall cabinets or shelves that break your line of sight.

Everything we do revolves around food, so why not build a kitchen that allows food to be the star of the show?

Next time you remodel, keep these ideas in mind and apply some design thinking to your dinner.

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Rachel Maloney
Environments Designer
For the past nine years, Rachel has focused on food and beverage service design for one-off restaurants as well as master planning for campus-wide food service. As an interior designer, she has worked with high-end hospitality brands to corporate tech giants, conceptualizing spaces and food concepts that rethink how we interact with food. She’s passionate about eating and cooking, and wishes she had Anthony Bourdain’s job.
Josh Harding
Obsessed with stories and sandwiches. Most happy when behind a camera.
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