Cathy Byrd: This is Fresh Art International. I’m Cathy Byrd.
In 2019, we visited art schools and universities in the United States and Canada, to begin recording voices of the future. In 2020, we present the first episodes in our Student Edition—conversations about creativity with emerging makers and producers. Given opportunities to explore and experiment, students are discovering how they can shape the world they live in. What issues and ideas spark their creative impulse?
Today, we take you to Motor City. Once a symbol of the dynamic U.S. economy, Detroit, Michigan, went through a major economic and demographic decline the 1960s. In part due to a steady loss of manufacturing jobs, a drastic population drop created acres of emptiness—vacant lots, abandoned buildings, and food deserts. Detroit’s art scene is known for countering negative growth with a resilient DIY attitude. While locals respect and sustain the history of innovation in the place they call home, the gritty urban landscape has begun to attract newcomers. Creatives from other cities are heading here to seek affordable studios and fresh opportunities.
Education is evolving, along with Detroit’s cultural character. At Wayne State University, degree programs are increasingly geared toward next generation art and design. Students taking the course Design for Urban Mobility work with local entrepreneurs to solve design problems. Past clients have been Detroit Bikes and the Detroit Department of Transportation with the Rehab Institute of Michigan. In Fall 2019, juniors and seniors majoring in industrial design joined forces with Dazmonique Carr, founder of Deeply Rooted Produce.
Dazmonique Carr: Basically, Deeply Rooted Produce is a multi-dimensional food distribution hub that we built here in Detroit around the model of getting healthy and locally grown, locally processed foods to underserved neighborhoods. There’s people doing pop-ups, there’s people doing things here and there, but they may be set in a specific location and other people on the east side may not be able to see, “oh yeah, X, Y, Z is happening on the west side.” So we want to bridge that gap.
CB: Consulting with local energy and farming experts is part of the design process.
Brandon Knight: …That could provide support to the neighborhood. You might win hearts and minds that way, so it can sometimes help generate more money in the fundraising process because people love off-grid. It gets people excited, especially Detroit off-grid gets people even more excited…
CB: After hearing Brandon Knight of Distributed Power weigh in on potential off-grid systems for their client, we sit down with a few of the students to learn more.
Mahmoud: I’m Mahmoud. I’m Palestinian and I’m from Dearborn. I’m designing a mobile market for a client by the name of Daz. She’s a business entrepreneur in Detroit who is trying to change the way that we eat food in Detroit. And she’s trying to tackle the problem of food deserts.
CB: What is your role in this design project?
Mahmoud: Our team is doing the mobile produce truck. We all have equal roles in the team. We split up the work based off of what we have to do in terms of deliverables. It’s just a learning experience.
CB: What does that mean? Designing the truck itself?
Mahmoud: So we would be doing the exterior and the interior of the mobile produce truck.
CB: Designing the display area inside?
Mahmoud: The different parts and mechanisms for the custom windows and bins and all that stuff. Also, we’re designing the awnings, the graphic design. We are doing an app to be used for the service. We’re trying to stick to her brand and right now she’s using a lot of light green colors. The idea is to keep it within the scope of sustainability and a raw food aesthetic. But also we’re trying to integrate a little bit of the Detroit soul and that branding.
CB: How would that look?
Mahmoud: Rustic or [like it] has been through a lot of corrosion. I think visually that represents the Detroit aesthetic a little bit. We would pull from that visually, but not necessarily structurally. For a food truck, the efficiency and like the longevity of the design is very important. So it has to be good quality materials.
CB: Can you give us an idea of the aesthetic?
Mahmoud: This is our logo here. It’s called Deeply Rooted. And then I put an image here that I thought was symbolic to the whole mission. It’s a mural in Detroit that has a farmer doing his thing, and it’s in the same neighborhood as a McDonald’s.
CB: Oh, that McDonald’s is in the background of the mural.
Mahmoud: Exactly. The issue is that people don’t really have the best access to groceries. It’s actually considered a food desert in certain areas of Detroit. This is what our client is trying to solve. And the mobile truck is just one way to approach that.
Benjamin: My name is Benjamin Davis. The main goal of this project is to help at-risk and low-income families get access to healthy food at an affordable price. Our idea for this was to create a food truck that will offset the costs of delivery to these people by selling vegetables, fruit—mainly in salads and smoothies from the food truck. We’re hoping to target the Campus Martius, Wayne State, Detroit Flea, and other locations where food trucks meet up. We’re hoping this will help the business a lot. One of the things we did with this truck was create a standing table area for people to stand and eat.
CB: Different from the display stand they’re designing?
BD: The display stand works alongside everything. The display stand can encourage people to learn as they’re eating. They’re planning to do classes and things like that as well. With the food truck, we wanted to have an open concept so people who are purchasing food can interact with employees and learn more about the community and fresh food. And as far as my role, I also did the graphics for the food trucks. We’re trying to make it cool—something you always do as a designer is try to make things look cool so people are interested in them.
CB: To make it inviting.
BD: Right. Exactly.
CB: And how does this fit with your personal philosophy and your mission for what you’re going to do with this degree?
BD: I think it’s just about problem solving and trying to create a better future. Personally, I have my own interests in sneakers and things like that. So I’m trying to find a way to make the world a little better through that. It’s a difficult thing to do, but it’s exciting.
Nick: I’m Nick from Brooklyn, Michigan.
Julia: I’m Julia. I’m from Berkeley, Michigan.
Marcella: I’m Marcella. I’m from Westland, Michigan. We are teaming up with Daz, who went to Wayne State. Detroit has a lot of food deserts in which there’s not a lot of access for fresh produce and groceries. So her business is a mobile grocery market. And our team, the three of us, we are assisting her in making display stands to display the groceries, but also to teach people about food nutrition and [provide] education on how to use fresh foods that maybe you’ve never used before, if you’ve never had access to grocery stores.
Julia: So we’re designing a mobile market stand that will be incorporated with her mobile market truck. And Daz is working with urban gardens to get her produce. Hopefully it’ll educate the community as to where their produce is coming from and connect the community with their produce.
CB: What kind of produce is grown locally?
Nick: Anything from kale to tomatoes, carrots. We just saw everything.
CB: How much of the year is this mobile market going around?
Nick: Right now, I believe it’s seasonal. She’s only doing it when the weather is decent enough to be outside and with the display stand. We’re helping this mobile produce truck get the crowd away from the truck and in the truck, get people around the environment that it’s creating in general.
CB: Food as a gathering place instead of a food desert. The food oasis.
Julia: Yeah. Hopefully it’ll bring the communities together to go look at local produce and go check out the gardens that it comes from. Low income is part of her target market. So they don’t always have the ability to get fresh fruits and vegetables. [The goal is] to educate kids on actually what a tomato is and to see that they’re seeds inside.
Nick: Our design for our display is pretty multi-functional. It can be used as like a demo table or just an actual stand to hold the produce. There’s like a pegboard section that can hold the produce or hold signage or hold educational activities that you can hang up on it or interact with. That’s the way we want to keep the community engaged with our display.
Marcella: So you can also do small demos to show samples of how to use these foods from the gardens. Our design of our stand is unique because it’s not for a standstill market or a store. We have to make sure our design is also able to be compact so you can fold it away, put on the truck, move it around wherever you need it.
CB: And if it’s a windy day, it’s not going to blow over. You have a lot of weather to deal with all year long, right?
Marcella: Our most recent modification to our display stand is adding supports to make sure it stands still, that it is stable—also protecting the wood to make sure that it won’t wear it down, that it won’t be damaged with water.
Julia: This is a very grassroots business that she’s making. We’re hoping that our project helps her gain funds when she proposes to big corporations that have the funds to help her grow.
CB: I noticed in the description of this course the different kinds of mobility: mobility and discovery, or mobility and social justice. Which category of mobility do you consider this project?
Marcella: Certainly mobility and social justice. Daz is very intent with her Deeply Rooted business to make fresh produce accessible. That is very important because not everyone has the same accessibility as others to get things that are healthy for you, that you need. Typically, the liquor stores are the closest and they don’t have fresh foods. They have unhealthy foods. If that is the only store nearest you, that is not good for your lifestyle.
CB: What is your personal take away from being involved in a project like this?
Mahmoud: I really just enjoy solving problems in the design world. For me, it’s a really good opportunity to learn about mobility in general. It’s really interesting actually that this is supposed to be an automotive design studio, but it’s been changing to an urban mobility studio in recent years because the focus is shifting on different solutions for mobility rather than just the existing cars that we have. So I think this is a good spot for a lot of designers to be in, to learn about what’s happening and these really fresh and new solutions that are coming out.
Benjamin: I think it’s great to be involved in the community in this way. It’s something very altruistic. I know everyone in the class is excited to be a part of this. My takeaway is I’m really inspired by how many people are involved and actually care about food and the environment and the community.
Marcella: We were able to have a few field trips to visit some of these urban gardens and farms. Myrtle with Feed’um Freedom is one of the places we visited, which was amazing. The people there are great and we saw the many different foods they could have in this space, just in Detroit.
Nick: I thought it was crazy how before this class, I had no idea about any of this stuff going on in Detroit. I feel like Detroit’s the last place you would think of urban gardening and farming in general.
Julia: I think we’ve learned a lot about the urban gardens. I can speak for myself: I’ve never been to one before this class. Seeing that there’s so much empty space, I think it’s amazing that they’re using it for such positivity. I just really hope this gets off the ground because it’s deeply needed in the community.
CB: As the students move on to their next classes, we turn to their professor to consider the shifting focus of industrial design in Detroit.
Siobhan Gregory: My name’s Siobahn Gregory and I’m originally from New Jersey. I moved to Detroit in 2000 to work for General Motors. I was there for a few years, I left, then came back in 2011, and started teaching here at Wayne State in 2012. I teach industrial design and design research and design process.
CB: What led you to teach the design for mobility course here?
SG: When I got this course, it was a more traditional transportation design course, so more based in automotive design. But because we don’t have a formal and well-funded automotive design program, our students really would not be successful car designers. It would be difficult for them. So we decided to overhaul the transportation design course and make it something new. I do a lot of work in Detroit and in my community and on the east side. We decided to make the transportation design course into a design for urban mobility course because there was a lot more opportunity for different types of projects. We really saw it as a way for students to be able to connect with the city. Clients like Dazmonique coming to us are really fantastic opportunities. I really, really want to work with entrepreneurs that don’t have a lot of resources, that maybe can’t afford design services—because we can provide them with some of [those services] at no cost and our students get a wonderful experience out of it as well.
CB: This is the Fresh Art International podcast. I’m Cathy Byrd. At Wayne State University, we discovered firsthand the impact of an educational opportunity that invites students to make a difference. Responding to the call, this group of next generation industrial designers are enabling and supporting mobility throughout the city with actionable ideas that promote self-sufficiency and health literacy. Wayne State—Designing for Urban Mobility is one of our 2020 Student Edition episodes.