Case Study: A Local Foods Exhibit

How do we encourage fairgoers to see themselves as active members of the food system?

In 2014, The Common Table, a network of designers and members of the Minnesota food community, came together to create a Minnesota State Fair exhibit that promotes local food. The project continues in 2015, and has expanded to include 30 graphic designers, 20+ food partners, writers, The Common Table core design team, and AIGA Minnesota. Sandy is one of two AIGA Minnesota Design for Good team leaders. This project is a perfect example of community engagement and collaborative design thinking.


In January 2015, project team leaders representing AIGA Minnesota and The Common Table laid out the following objective: People should leave this exhibit with 1) more knowledge about where their food comes from, and 2) inspired to take one or more actions that can ultimately lead to a sustainable food system.

We created six design teams, each of which will concentrate on one key action:

  • buy local food
  • eat from sustainable restaurants
  • grow your own food
  • nurture healthy soil
  • reduce food waste
  • promote food justice


This project is following the key steps of the design thinking process:

Observing & listening:  Starting in February, design teams gathered in individual action groups to hear from local experts and members of the community before identifying the focal point of each exhibit. We began with two questions in each group, for example: 1) What does it mean to eat sustainably? and 2) What are the key barriers to people eating sustainably?  Some teams sent out surveys to gather more data or sought additional community member input.

Defining the problem:  By the second meeting, each team (designers and food experts) identified a problem statement, for example: How do we educate a broad audience of people (for whom the word ‘foodie’ is a foreign word) about what it means to eat sustainably? 

Generating ideas:  Without initial constraints, teams were encouraged to think expansively: How can you excite people about this topic? What is the most creative way you can solve this problem? Teams were encouraged to test some of these ideas with friends, family, and particularly children to get some early feedback.

Prototyping:  We introduced space parameters and budget guidelines and asked teams to start prototyping some of their ideas. Working in tandem with writers, they developed detailed visual prototypes for a presentation in early June to the local community food experts who were part of framing the project at the beginning.

Testing & evaluating:  Each prototype was measured against how well it answered the original question, was appealing to the target audience, and inspired those people to take action. The Common Table leads—most of them architects—are providing expertise on sourcing materials and fabrication techniques, and helping teams work within budget to achieve their designs. Teams will continue to tweak their ideas, finalizing designs by the end of June when production begins.


This project is ongoing. Come to the 2015 Minnesota State Fair (August 27-Labor Day) and see the final exhibit!


AIGA Minnesota Design for Good: Sandy Wolfe Wood and Linda Henneman. The Common Table: Rebekka DesLauriers, Josh Bergeron, Jeremiah Johnson, Anna Waugh.