Designing Palate and Palette: Jefferson’s Culinary Odyssey Through Cross-disciplinary Creativity
In the dynamic realm of design education, the intersection of disciplines often sparks heightened levels of creativity and innovation. At Jefferson, a new interdisciplinary collaboration unfolded within the interior design and visual communication design studios, igniting students’ imaginations and challenging traditional boundaries.
This unique venture saw 13 teams of visual communication design and interior design students working together on a project with a distinct flavor—creating a restaurant concept inspired by an existing Philadelphia eatery rooted in non-Western culture.
The studio was born out of a partnership between Dr. Grace Ong Yan, associate professor of interior design; Beth Shirrell, associate professor and program director of visual communication design; and Renée Walker, associate professor of visual communication design.
“As professors, we want to help students get out of their comfort zone,” Shirrell says. “It created a positive energy and excitement for them to learn about different cultures through the lens of food. It was an opportunity for them to tell the story of a culture through design.”
The project began with a presentation and panel discussion called “Blurring Boundaries: Multidisciplinary Design for Food and Culture Experience,” which brought together New York-based firms 2×4 and LAB at Rockwell Group to discuss branding, architecture and design in creating food and culture experiences.
The studio allowed students to build skills, flex their design muscles and grapple with concepts like cultural appropriation in their work and fields of study. For students Anita Esin, Emma Maddaluna and Haley Nelson, who partnered on a West African restaurant concept, staying true to the culture meant conducting a lot of background research. Maddaluna, a visual communication design senior, chose a color palette based on that research. Then, the team selected themes to guide their designs.
For example, the team used trees and their branches to inspire the restaurant layout and a graphic wall they conceived. Esin, Maddaluna and Nelson played to their strengths to develop the best possible plans for their restaurant.
Maddaluna created and printed the restaurant’s visual concepts. At the same time, Esin and Nelson collaborated on the interiors, with Maddaluna taking the lead from a technical model-building perspective. To challenge themselves further, the interior design students built on their class lessons and used model-making software they just learned to use.
“We worked together super well,” says Nelson, an interior design sophomore. “I’m very grateful.”
The faculty noticed the multidisciplinary teams that collaborated closely created the most interesting projects.
“One team created an environmental graphic wall featuring key Columbian food ingredients on a dynamic curved wall,” Dr. Ong Yan says. “It blew my mind. It’s a tight collaboration and a great design. There are elements that I don’t think interior design students would have thought of because they come from another discipline. It’s a magical thing when these concepts come together. It’s unexpected, but it works really, really well.”