TALKS | Health and healthy society

Service and System Oriented Design Exploration on Healthy Diets and Sustainable Food Systems in China

Zijun Lin & Birger Sevaldson
The Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Norway

This paper takes China’s food system sustainability as an example, discusses system-oriented design and service design approaches to address problems in a complex context.

Nowadays, China’s food system faces significant challenges that threaten both human health and environmental sustainability. The awareness and need to shift to more sustainable food systems is increasing (Afshin et al., 2019; EAT-Lancet Commission, 2019; Willett et al., 2019). However, the transition to healthy and sustainable diets goes beyond nutrition and environment as to include economic, socio-cultural, and political dimensions, which showcase the complexity (FAO, n.d.).

The case study of the design project “Panacea Food Lab” illustrates an approach and practice of combining Service Design, Systems Oriented Design, and Co-creation to cope with the complex issue. It aims to design interventions to facilitate the transition to healthy and sustainable diets in young Chinese consumers, which is the key to a systemic reformation of sustainable food systems in China (Si & Scott, 2019).

This project takes a systemic study of the current food system and consumers in China intervenes from a bottom-up perspective and combines the social and cultural characteristics of young Chinese consumers, to suggest an educational platform with hands-on food experience. The project aims to build a healthy dietary perception in a defined group of consumers, to further push the behaviour change, and finally help to form an overall healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

The implementation of Panacea Food Lab is based on the participation of various stakeholders, like food-related social organization, knowledge providers, and local organic farms. The project provides a comprehensive service, including food innovation workshops and online services, by combining the offerings from the aforementioned stakeholders.

The food innovation workshop is the core of the service. With knowledge empowerment and hands-on experience, it guides consumers toward building a scientific and healthy dietary perception under an appealing visual context of traditional Chinese culture. Meanwhile, the workshop connects humans, food, and the environment, conveying the idea of a sustainable lifestyle.

The online part of Panacea Food Lab makes the service more accessible and potentially more influential. It includes an online eco-food market that sells sustainable food and ingredients, a food library where users review and share multimedia and interactive food knowledge, and management tool for users to search and book workshops effortlessly.

On the individual level, the value proposition of this project is to help people achieve a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. Moreover, as they grow to be the mainstream force of food consumption, the current youth population can bring a positive bottom-up impact on the market and society. The project’s focus on environmental impact is to develop awareness around responsible food consumption and its implications on the environment.

This paper showcases the implementation of utilizing systems-oriented design methods to form a holistic understanding of a complex system and explore the potential systemic impact. The importance of long-term goals in a design project is also highlighted. Furthermore, combining systemic thinking with service design and co-creation approaches is significantly beneficial to proposing services and solutions for complex systems.