My design research lately has had me focusing attention on food insecurity in students and low-income families. As examined in "Checking out of Supermarkets" chapter of "Stuffed and Starved" by Raj Patel, Walmart makes for a multitude of case studies of how those that are economically challenged are subject to being trapped by the power house retailer. My family, like most families in town, became Walmart devotees when the very first Walmart opened in our town in the late 1980's. It seemed that we simply did not have a choice to shop anywhere else, with Walmart we were able to have a variety of food, clothing and household options. As a kid, it made total sense and was even fun to go on a family outing to the superstore because it meant Pop Tarts, my favorite cereals and a trip down toy aisle!
As I've grown older, I've learned the cost of those low prices and have made Walmart a "last resort" type of shopping obligation. Now being back at school and on a fixed income, I find myself striving for solutions outside of Walmart. For the sake of my recent research topic I will limit this comparison to food quality. It is quite boggling to compare the quantity of meals one can obtain at Walmart as compared to my favorite local grocers offering organic and more sustainable foods, so I still have to depend on Walmart for some of the basics. But when I consider families who simply haven't the funds or shopping time for other options, its easy to see how Walmart dominates.
In my current project I am striving to find just one solution to help low-income students or families skip the Walmart trip and gain access to healthier, more sustainable options in their local communities. One idea is bringing healthy locally grown food donated by local farmers or organizations to places people need them, such as in downtown Davis, and in or near schools where people often rush and miss meals. I would also like to provide some resources for them to access more food and people in their community to cook with to cut down on trips to the grocery store.
Walmart sales last year were $419 billion. It will take a lot to get people out of the Walmart trap but a little freedom can go a long way!
According to Raj Patel in his book "Stuffed and Starved" chapter entitled "The Customer is Our Enemy" large corporations are striving to monopolize their markets to eliminate competition, reduce their obligations in research and development, control the communities providing product for them and maximize profits. They claim that their growth and mergers will create more strength and resources to provide lower costs and better products, but history has proved the opposite. With the largest seed and pharmaceuticals companies, for example, merging at this very moment, this only means one thing to many of us.....dread.
As Patel outlines in the evidence of the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita banana) case, entire wars are being fought and lost by hundreds of thousands of people in the countries of cultivation and it is hidden to consumers. This is truly terrifying. My family nearly exclusively ate those bananas daily for two decades. It is horrifying to imagine the contribution we unknowingly made to this hidden war.
Now that I am older however, I am far more conscious of the companies I endorse in order to put food on the table. But what is difficult about moving forward, is no matter how hard I try to purchase responsible and sustainable products, I fear I am no match to the powerful corporations who consider me the enemy and will employ their strongest resources to put their bottom line first.
Case studies are a great research tool for me to take advantage of in my work as I would like to look into the experience of the individual as they are interacting with spaces and artwork in a variety of different venues. As the article Universal Methods of Design by Bella Martin and Bruce Hanington describes, case studies draw valuable information from the user or users at an event in context.
My current methods of research include roaming online through articles, blogs, social media and news for the materials and design process of the topic, the makers/practitioners, the theory, the places to find the design etc. and go from there.
My favorite method is when I get luck seeking local practitioners of the particular area of design and reaching out through my network to try to interview them or and experience the design first hand on exhibition or better yet, while its in process as well.
In our Design Theory course, UCD Design MFA Graduate Petrice Elhert presented us with some guidance for research and organization during our thesis work. She mentioned useful brainstorming software such as XMind - a brain mapping graphics program (similar to concept mapping as mentioned in the aformentioned article) and Evernote - an organization and archival program. She also reminded us of the assets we know have as design researches which include the Arts Librarian on campus Dan Goldstein, mentorship, and strategic search tools in scholar search engines. I look forward to employing these tools into my research process as soon as possible.
Author of the book "Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle of the World's Food System" Raj Patel will be visiting the campus of UC Davis in March, to discuss the book and be a part of a variety of campus events. I think the opportunity to reflect our perspective on the topic through a collaborative design project could be a great way to access and activate the voice of our local, regional and even national community. I am personally very concerned about the topic and would love to focus design research on such an important social cause.
Considering the campus community will be focusing on the topic, I think this could be a great opportunity to be involved in a community-wide discussion and the possibilities for creating something meaningful could be quite good!
I am not quite sure where I might fit into this project but I would like to explore the content and find my way.
One major walk away from this reading was the necessity for the creative to keep a sketchbook. I have feared a pen to blank paper for years. I can visualize so many ideas but few make it to imagery and even fewer come to fruition. I have set an intention for my future practice to include visualization through hand sketched repetition of my daily surroundings. As the author notes so eloquently "embracing a regimen for making and securing ideas so they exist beyond the firing of a thought may well be the factor that distinguishes between creative types and critical makers."
Just like Leslie Hirst, the author of "The Art of Critical Making", I have been called "the creative one" for as long as I can remember. Flattering as it is to be considered someone who can reach inspired answers, it can be daunting to find your way to your personal voice. I really connected to the author's perspective on deconstructing a design problem, learning the history, theory, materials, technologies, boundaries and so on before even thinking of a solution. Iteration can be dizzying, especially when the project is your own personal path to your artistic voice or your career goals. But it is sobering to remember us "creatives" aren't alone in feeling that way.
"It will be more of a dance, and less of a march," commented Artefact's John Rousseau in reference to the probable soon surfacing field of Design Strategist, one of the many multi-faceted design professions emerging in the near future. According to the article 5 Design Jobs That Won't Exist In The Future, it is probable that designers will no longer be able to specialize as a integral cog in a design team, but will need to be all members of design team. To keep up designers will need to be researchers, theologists, strategists, coders and one step ahead of the artificial intelligence they are creating.
With the compounding fractions of the world of design, the complexity of the work increases across many platforms and with it sprawls the complexity of work for the designer. What is wonderful is the growing number of jobs there will be for designers in the future and the progress that will cultivate in our evolving way of life. What is troubling, at least to me, is the growing number of hats a designer will be required to wear to grow in their career. Currently my resume claims a variety of graphic design, 3D modeling and CAD software skills, in addition to a sampling of fabrication knowledge and industrial applications. But it seems that to keep up with the field I will need to strategically seek experience in a variety of disciplines in order to be a well-rounded asset to an employer. It makes sense, this dance, this waltz of iteration of a career as ideas, products and professional identities drop off as fast as they pop up.
I'm just pleased to know that the freelancer still has a place on the floor, as a designer I may need to know a lot of steps, but at least I will get to employ my own moves.