This exhibition presents the work of masters of graphic design students from North Carolina State University completed during a graduate studio course focusing on the cognitive complexities of the people involved in design systems. The course used food as a theme to inform research and design investigations. The collective body of work is part of a larger, ongoing conversation about the design of food systems. The methods used, in tandem with the resulting work, looked for methods to build awareness of new lifestyles and innovative approaches for food.

The course began with research on various food systems–vendors, shopping experiences, and distributions. Students visually mapped points of interaction, and considered experiences from various perspectives; customers, consumers, providers, distributors, and vendors.

Following general research, the focus moved to activity and schema theories. Students visually explored small interest points discovered through initial research. Explorations focused on how people within systems could be moved to shift their frame of thinking based on design. The concept of cultured, or in-vitro meat, was introduced to provide a central point of focus and exploration. Students explored how design can move an audience along a Receptivity Gradient, as theorized by David Rose, MIT Media Lab Visiting Scientist.

Through this process, students were collectively immersed in all things food, becoming pseudo-experts in a previously unfamiliar subject. By exploring the work of peers, students laid the groundwork for discussion on a variety of topics, including food allergies, culinary innovation, farming practices, manufacturing, the impact of livestock on the environment, farm waste, fast food, and culinary innovation. These discussions and conversations furthered the work, and in turn, the work furthered the discussion.

The resulting body of work is presented as an exhibition with the intention of encouraging cross-disciplinary conversation in the Experiencing Food conference space.

What’s the deal with that?

The purpose of a concept map is to ascertain and comprehend the full scope of the topic through visualization, keeping in mind larger and tangental systems and how they might influence the primary topic. Students collaborated to explore three food-related areas that explicitly involve design: food stores, food shopping, and food distribution.

Why’d they do that?

Experience mapping allows designers to capture and communicate complex interactions by illustrating a particular user’s path through an experience. Students examined the relationship between designed artifacts and the experiences of particular people (shoppers, workers, kids, etc.) by way of experience mapping, one map exploring an existing experience, the other to speculate about the ways people who negotiate such systems might gain greater agency.

How did we come to this?

Activity theory comes from the work of early twentieth-century Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Designers use activity theory to analyze activities as goal-oriented interactions between people and their environments, through the use of tools, both physical and psychological. Students were asked to use activity theory as a means of visualizing the progression of an object’s design based on multiple cycles of activity.

But what could it be?

Building off the anticipated and imagined changes seen in progressions of activity theory, students researched potential interactions within an existing food-related system. From this research, students identified potential design opportunities for greater user agency or information transparency. Students then designed artifacts within a system that imagined expression and experiences representing the opportunities identified.

Why am I so grossed out?

Analogies are useful in making the strange familiar (comparing something we don’t know to something we already know) and in making the familiar strange (gaining new insight on a concept we think we already know by comparing it to something seemingly unrelated). Students were asked to observe and discuss schemas used currently to represent in-vitro meat production and then design Things (artifacts, tools, information spaces, etc.) that fall somewhere on David Rose’s “Receptivity Gradient” and might motivate readers to move along the gradient.

What is meat anyway?

Students were asked to identify the schema(s) applied in Thing #1 and then applied opposite, or counter, schemas in Thing #2 in order to point out student biases and to redirect designed responses.

Will it make a good burger?

Students investigated five different, arbitrarily selected schemas applied to the same content in one artifact, such as a digital interface, public space, or booklet.

Can I subscribe to that?

After creating a collection of schemas, designers reflected on the previous study and evolved one of the schemas to create a new artifact, tool, or space that informs specific people on the topic.

But really, what is taste?

Students were asked to reflect on and explore their previous schema further, as many of the things created were clichés or parodies. Students were tasked with creating demonstrations of informed schema applications as a means of realizing its potential communicative power.

Authorship: Clément Bordas, Grace Anne Foca, Mac Hill, Amber Ingram, Bree McMahon, Dajana Nedić, Rachael Paine.