Visualizing Your Impact
|Institution:||University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign|
|Category:||Graphic Design, Information Design, Systems, Visual Communication|
|Filed Under:||Brainstorming, Climate, Data Visualization, Design for Good, Design Research, Ethics, Four-year Program, Iteration, Mapping, Politics, Poster, Printed Matter, Process, Social Impact, Sustainability|
How connected are you with what you eat?
Choose a meal that holds a special significance to you. Find the ingredients for this meal and prepare it to share with the rest of the class. Catalog the ingredients in your dish. What are they? Where did they originate? Examine the packaging and trace everything used in the box to its origination. (This will require research). For example if Malodextrin is in one of your purchased ingredients, how is it made? Who makes it? Where? Use all of this information to create a thought-provoking visual diagram portraying the web that is your favorite meal (it could be a very tangled web). On top of showing the connected geography of your meal, this visual diagram must also display its approximate carbon footprint through forms that vary in size or color.
You should utilize the packaging of each ingredient to help dictate form and color of the symbols, icons, maps, overlays, size and spatial relationships to best portray the story of your favorite meal. The final format and medium for this project is up to your interests and discretion (e.g. poster, web site, booklet, etc.).
From the most pragmatic perspective, this project helps students learn about and improve their information design skills. Beyond this, students learn about systems, carbon footprint, and food ethics.
Students submit an object that fits the content and food dish they chose. This is typically a poster, web site, or booklet,
“The gifts of the earth are all in one bowl, all to be shared from a single spoon. This is the vision of the economy of the commons, wherein resources fundamental to our well-being, like water & land & forests, are commonly held rather than commodified.” – Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. 1. ed., Milkweed Editions, 2013, p. 376.
- 22.38 pounds of CO2 are produced by burning a gallon of diesel fuel
- The average 18-wheeler gets 5.9 mpg
This assignment was fun and thought provoking as students made or purchased food to bring in for a class potluck to kick off the project. Food brings people together and that was no different here as the dishes and stories about their personal connections to food brought the class together and sparked more conversation than a typical "discuss a reading" class format.
I had taught this project before, and from that experience, made small tweaks to increase the time dedicated to the project (from three to four weeks), used the research of Miriam Salah to ask the students to write a love and break-up letter to their favorite dishes, and provided more data and in-class examples of how to map where their food came from to aid in the design process.
The results were very interesting ranging from infographics on posters to pizza boxes and recipe cards to life-size cereal packaging. The parameters were left open to encourage students to relate the object to the message and content. If I were to make a change to this project, I would:
- Encourage food not only to start the project, but food also at the end.
- Require a reflection essay as a deliverable about what they learned about the carbon footprint of the food they eat and also how (if any) this project has allowed them to think more about the connection between agriculture and climate change.