Case Study: What We Eat and Why It Matters
Illinois Wesleyan University faculty taught courses on the topic of food, instructing students through the lens of their own discipline. The graphic design students branded the theme, providing visual, experiential and social media to enhance awareness of the course cluster on campus. Students also designed a campus movement to promote local food.
Our first objective was to bring visibility to the course cluster by branding the topic and publicizing related events. Our second objective was to raise awareness about the benefits of real local food rather than “bar-coded” packaged food. After researching the topic, students sought to motivate their peers to adopt healthy eating habits, which could have a lifelong impact on the community’s health, the environment and the economy.
We did not have a budget, but we did have access to digital printing on the university campus.
My colleagues in the course cluster served as the content experts. Design students researched a wide range of resources including books, films, lectures and websites, and made visits to local organic farms and farmers’ markets. The following resources were key to our research:
- Food, Inc.
- King Corn
- “Finding Food in Farm Country: Why it Matters for Our Health and Wealth” by Ken Meter, President, Crossroads Resource Center
- Marty Travis, Spence Farm
- Michael Pollan: The Omnivore’s Dilemma
- Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio: What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets
- Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio: Hungry Planet: What the World Eats
- William Munro: Fighting for the Future of Food: Activists versus Agribusiness in the Struggle over Biotechnology
We first sought to publicize and raise awareness about the course cluster. This was accomplished by branding the topic with visual, digital and social media. The logo was made available for faculty to use on course materials. The class designed posters, flyers and other print pieces. They maintained a Facebook group for publicizing campus events. They established an image library of conceptually targeted photography. Students identified the most common “touch points” on campus to reach the desired audience.
After researching and branding the topic, students became passionate about creating a campus movement to motivate their peers to adopt healthy eating habits, which could have a lifelong impact on the community’s health, environment and economy. Our strategy first required simplification of a very complex topic. The students chose Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan as an inspirational resource. With a copyright clearance from Penguin Books, students designed educational pieces to bring attention to the 64 food rules in the book, offering witty advice such as: “It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.”
In addition to developing large-scale posters, videos and educational materials for campus, students designed outdoor installations. For example, referencing food rule #37, "The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead," the class built ten body shapes with white bread. These “bodies” were placed in highly populated areas of campus with signage for the rule and QR codes referring to the Facebook group. At a workshop for the course, cluster students were asked to adopt at least one of the 64 food rules and were given a “leave behind” as a reminder of their commitment. The posters became so popular that large-scale versions were printed and permanently hung on campus.
In addition to the strategies outlined above, the students devised a plan with the residence halls to initiate a program called “Sunday Suppers.” The plan was to take advantage of the one evening on campus without food service and provide free home-cooked food in the kitchens of residence halls. A visual theme was established along with collections of recipes that used real food rather than processed food. The strategy was to entice the audience with the smell of food cooking in the hall, and get them involved in cooking and eating real food.
In most design courses, students are given a specific visual problem and they individually design solutions. This project was the first to demand that the students collectively define the problem—they negotiated, discussed feasibility and eventually chose a direction. Working as a team provided its own challenges. Students took advantage of various team members’ strengths in organization, project management and leadership, as well as their design skills.
The branding of the course cluster brought a visual and social media presence to the cluster theme—the food cluster had a high visibility on campus. We’ve had numerous requests for the visual media that was produced for this project. This project has also been presented to groups both within the campus community and beyond. Student comments indicate that the project not only taught them about designing a branding campaign and grassroots movement, but changed how they think about and respond to food. Some even stated that it was a life-changing learning experience.