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Teaching Systems Thinking through Food

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Abstract: This paper presents a case study of a junior level design studio where food is an entry into systems thinking. In the design classroom, food systems are a familiar and inclusive concept that provides a set of conditions that require students to integrate social, economic and environmental phenomena into comprehensive solutions. Consequently, the study of food as a design problem can extend beyond a basic identification of nutrition and personal preferences of taste and flavor into inquiries on accessibility, environmental sustainability, and political power. Graphic design has traditionally defined and understood the term “systems” as visual communication structures. However, today’s complicated problems need designers to employ a more comprehensive and shared understanding of systems thinking for multidisciplinary work environments. At the semester's end, students gained an understanding of the local, national and global food system they are a part of through research methods such as concept mapping, field research, ethnographic studies, and written critical evaluations to name a few. Working with complex problems for the students reinforces the necessity for design practitioners to be skilled in systems thinking, and further substantiates the need for a multi-disciplinary collaborative approach that is research oriented.

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