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Susan S. Szenasy
Food for Thought
Two competitions underscore the value
of research, innovation, and collaboration.
A young industrial designer invents a cooking system for her
autistic brother. A nonprofit works with an architect and a chef
to create an inner-city restaurant to serve healthy meals in
an underprivileged neighborhood—and train local residents
for food-service jobs. Both projects focus on our basic need for
nourishment, but they also speak to human dignity, independence, and connectivity. The juries that chose them were
inspired enough to spend long hours in passionate but collegial
debates. While each jury commented on the designs’ visual
appeal, the liveliest discussions focused on the stories behind
the attractive images—the intertwining relationships and
complex processes. These were stories worth telling in detail.
In the case of Metropolis’s ninth Next Generation Competition (be inspired by the story, “Family Recipe” on page 70),
I served as moderator of an energetic discourse on the necessity
for original, rigorous, and focused research as well as the importance of identifying underserved user groups and designing for
their special needs.
In the case of Chicago’s Inspiration Kitchen, winner of the
25th Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, I was a member
of a diverse jury that included a mayor, in addition to the design
professionals. But the jury’s duties didn’t end with picking five
urban interventions across the United States as finalists. The
foundation’s delegates fanned out to visit each of the five sites:
They talked to all the stakeholders and the people who live
nearby; took pictures; discovered the details of financing;
determined how the design was received by the community;
and, most importantly, how it fulfilled its mission. Armed with
this rigorously researched information, as well as live reports
from the site visitors (in addition to the brief that was originally submitted to Bruner), we reconvened to choose the
winner—a most satisfying, though at times difficult, experience.
The Bruner way of judging gives design work the meaning,
dignity, importance, and relevance to the community that it
deserves. So, I must ask, why are we still spending time debating pictures when there’s so much to know, so much to say?