Project Cookbook

Friends, I want you to help me make a cookbook.

Specifically, I’d like you to collaborate with me and other designers in creating a graphics-driven collection of recipes that we’ll publish in print and electronic formats.


I think the standard cookbook needs a usability upgrade. Paragraphs are fine for sitting down with a story, but they’re hard to follow in the kitchen. It’s easy to lose your place while you look away to whisk this or add that, and the linear text isn’t suited to the many recipes that have multiple tracks; I can make sauce while I let the dough rise. I often end up re-copying recipes I find online, sketching them with sequence arrows to point what I should do when, and showing when sequences come together. It’s easier to follow, and I leave a lot of white space to make it easier to keep my place

A text recipe is the easiest format for a writer to construct, but it’s probably not the easiest for a reader to follow. It’s more effective to show people what to do than to tell them. Plenty of companies know this; think about assembly directions for IKEA furniture, or Legos. This is what I think we should be doing with recipes. Creating visual directions that are easier to follow and which are attractive and pleasurable to use.

So, here’s where I want your help…

The Plan

I want to gather together a bunch of people to create graphical recipes. Then, I want to assemble the various recipes into a cookbook, distribute it electronically, and attempt to fund a print copy via Kickstarter or a similar site. Any profits garnered from sales and excess Kickstarter funds will be used toward charitable endeavors. Let’s make a cookbook.

I am certainly not the first to come up with this idea. Several people have put together recipes that rely on graphical language. Here are some great examples, though some of them sacrifice utility for flashiness:

What I think will be fun and different about this project, though, is the variety. Since we’ll have a diverse group of designers, that means each recipe will be in a different style, and each will use different schemes for communicating directions. It is admittedly as much an art anthology as a cookbook, but that’s the great part. It’s art you can admire, but also art you can use every day. Which is certainly my favorite kind.

I hope you’ll join me in this project. Ideally, I’d like to get going on assembly this summer, so I’d like to aim to have everyone’s contributions in by May 1st, though we can be a bit flexible on that if needs be. I kind of just made that date up, so if you want to be a part of this but need an adjustment, let me know.

Here are some guidelines I have in mind, so that we’re all working toward the same goal…

The Guidelines

  • The end result should be attractive, intriguing, and functional. Artful, yet practical.
  • Page size is 8.5″ x 11″, with a 1/8″ bleed; your design can take up multiple pages as needed.
  • You can style this thing pretty much however you want; whatever you think looks good and tells people how to cook something.
  • You can pick any recipe you want, simple or complicated. It’s an eclectic cookbook, with varied styles of art and varied styles of food.
  • You do not need to invent your own recipe idea; you can borrow someone else’s. Please cite them in your design somewhere. See below on Intellectual Property.
  • You can submit multiple pieces; we might not use them all, though.
  • Include the name of the recipe somewhere prominent on your page(s), so that people thumbing through can find it.
  • You can, but do not need, to use text (other than the title) in your piece. It can be all graphics, or graphics and text. Just so long as it has a strong graphical component.
  • I can’t guarantee that everyone who submits will have their piece put into the final book; I might thin the submissions depending on quantity and quality.
  • You have to be comfortable with me putting the final result in a book and sending it all over the internet.
  • You can include an author credit in the recipe, but you do not have to. I’m thinking we’ll put the author’s name next to the recipe name in the Table of Contents.
  • You can work in teams.
  • For maximum usability, provide measurements in both metric and imperial units.
  • Once I have the book laid out, I may ask people to go back and add page numbers to their recipes, or make other adjustments.
  • You can use color, but you don’t have to.
  • As we get in to this, we may want to alter or add to these guidelines, since I have very little idea what I’m doing.

Intellectual Property

A recipe (as in, the actual list of ingredients and directions on how to combine them) can’t be copyrighted. What can be copyrighted is the actual writeup, in the author’s own words. It’s not the idea of the recipe, but the written description of that idea that is protected. So, you can freely take a recipe you found in someone else’s cookbook, and use it for this project. It would be illegal for you to simply reproduce it word-for-word, but you are free to take the idea of the recipe (again, the ingredients plus how to put them together), and re-express it in your own way. It is, however, good form to indicate where you got the recipe from.

See also:

Random Ideas

Some folks have already pointed out some interesting directions this could take. You don’t have to do any of these things, but here’s some random ideas:

  • Illustrate a recipe comic book-style, with multiple panels
  • Use no words (other than the title), relying entirely on a universal picture language (ex: Isotype).
  • Build your graphics out of typography (ex: typographic maps)

Anyway, that’s the idea. If you’re interested in joining me on this project, let me know that I can keep you in the loop, in case we need to make changes to guidelines, etc.


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