In anticipation of the upcoming 2012 D-Crit Conference, "Eventually Everything," Core77 is pleased to have the opportunity to explore the breadth of SVA's design criticism MFA program through a series of Q&As with a few members of the graduating class.
Anna Kealey will be presenting "Unpacking the Pastoral Food Package: Myth-Making in Graphic Design" during the first panel of the day-long event, "Calculated Nostalgia," on Wednesday, May 2nd. See the full schedule of events here.
The expanding market of health- and environmentally-conscious consumers has intensified processed food companies' focus on visuals and verbiage that equate their products to fresh, healthy, unprocessed foods. Designers working with food clients are expected to maintain myths about food production and the healthy attributes of processed foods. Packaging design attempts to add a level of emotional resonance to products, ideally connecting consumers to a natural environment and tradition through agrarian imagery far removed from the reality of a boxed, processed package taken from the supermarket shelf. An enormous range of packaging designs overwhelms and confuses the consumer. Together they create a landscape of fictitious imagery that is disconnected from the realities of food production today and perpetuates a lack of understanding about food. This presentation dissects the visual and verbal cues on food packaging-from the seemingly obvious to the far more abstract-and illustrates how they are used to create myths about food.
Core77: Why D-Crit? Why now?
Anna Kealey: Communication is so visual now. I think the success of platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are indicative of our desire to communicate with quick pictorial snapshots almost in place of words. These new mediums coupled with already existing ones means our environment is increasingly saturated with images and designed artifacts. D-Crit gave me a broad range of skills to evaluate this material and what it says of our culture. The rate of change in design, especially in the digital realm, is so fast. The course's contemporary-focus equipped me to evaluate current design phenomena as they're happening.
How has your background in visual communication informed your interest in food packaging? Do you think a naïve (i.e. untrained) approach to the design of food packaging would be an advantage or disadvantage for your research?
I worked briefly for a food magazine in Ireland and learned quickly of the intentionality behind every aspect of food design—from the sprig of rosemary that appears casually strewn on the plate to the vintage photographic filters used to add a nostalgic haze. It's there whether you realize it or not.
My background meant I was constantly critiquing my own work and the work of my colleagues, which helped me develop a keen critical eye. It gave me the ability to dissect the packaging into its basic design components, which allowed me to analyze each design decision and its motivations. Where my experience was probably most useful was when I was interviewing designers because I could speak their language and understand their process.
However, I could see how a graphic design background could prove to be a hindrance. I am very immersed in the world of design and many of my dearest friends work in the field. I have tremendous respect for the work designers do. However, my thesis deeply evaluated, and often criticized, the basic aesthetic decisions that designers make everyday. This is important to what I do, and what I believe, which is that visual material and seemingly innocent design decisions do have ethical consequences. Nobody really enjoys being critiqued. So in a way, being an untrained outsider could have afforded me some distance. Thankfully I was aware of this conflict as I begun my research so early on I accepted that what I wrote will not please everybody.
Has your thesis research significantly changed your worldview?
Well, my food shopping experience will never be the same again! My thesis research deepened my inclination to engage with seemingly innocuous design material. It all has an agenda. In fact, the most banal things, like the Corn Flakes box or the Burger King wrapper, are often the most interesting.
What's next for you?
In June, I will be presenting my thesis research at the International Conference on Designing Food and Designing for Food (ICDFDFF) in London Metropolitan University. I have also begun the exciting process of curating an exhibition of critical design pieces that make commentaries on issues relating the food industry, like waste, Greenwashing, nutrition and childhood obesity. I have already secured really compelling pieces from a number of talented designers. I received a small grant from the SVA alumni society and am looking to secure further funding to host the show towards the end of the summer.
Anna Kealey was born in Dublin, Ireland, and holds a BA in Visual Communications. She won the Design History Society Prize for her undergraduate thesis Innovation and Exploitation: a Critique of American Apparel. She works as a researcher and writer at the creative recruitment agency Wert & Co. and as a research assistant for Steven Heller. In 2011 Anna worked as conference assistant at AIGA, helping to organize Pivot: AIGA National Design Conference. Anna hopes to become an educator, while maintaining a career in design and writing.
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Eventually Everything: The 2012 D-Crit Conference, featuring graduating students of the SVA MFA in Design Criticism, and moderated by Change Observer co-editor Julie Lasky, will take place on May 2, 2012 at the Visual Arts Theatre in New York City.
This year's conference is comprised of four themed panels, each introduced by keynote speakers, including media historian Stuart Ewen; Pentagram partner Michael Bierut; 2×4 founding partner Michael Rock; cultural historian Jeffrey Schnapp; and Interboro Partners principal Daniel D'Oca. Topics to be addressed include the absence of firearms in design collections, the persistence of an anti-ornament bias in architectural discourse, Main Street USA as rhetorical trope, and the need for designers to make repairable products.
This is the third D-Crit conference organized by, and featuring, graduating D-Crit students. Join us for a richly programmed afternoon of provocation, insight, and inspiration that aims to re-chart the future of design discourse. There is no charge for admission, so sign up today to save your seat.