The Ideating Process of Food Deserting


As I’m new to making comics, I was doing some storyboarding today, and am trying to decide on a conflict which drives the story.

I think the main conflict I want to start with is that there is a lack of access to fresh, healthy foods in a community. The characters then try to create a simple plot of land to make a garden; they go through struggles trying to make the garden. Because I have no little experience with urban gardening, I don’t know how to quite exactly tell this portion of the story, and would love some much needed help. I don’t want to be a pure idealist and say the process of making a garden is easy (i.e. maintenance, logistics, management, etc.), but I don’t want to stray too far away from making this an educational process about urban gardening.

My main concern about this right now is length, but maybe I should leave that aside for now

My attempt to work on a comic on food deserts!

As part of my attempt to lower the barriers of access to public participation in urban planning , starting this month, I will create a short comic spread of a story of a high school student in West Oakland who is frustrated by the lack of access to fresh, healthy food and decides to start a local urban garden in her neighborhood (food deserts).

This is my first story and comic: it will suck. It won’t be the most polished story ever. However, it’s okay. It is a learning experience that I want to go through now when I’m young so I can understand many of these different concepts, which I will have to do in the real world, include:

Character design, story-boarding, illustration, cartooning, script-writing, information-design, marketing (I will have to find ways to spread the comic, albeit it will be free)

Part of the reason why I am doing this is because I would like to have something tangible for people to point to when they ask me what I do, so they have a better sense of the type of service I will offer to them in the future; having a clear, tangible service is important for a business to be successful. I plan to work in Asia for several years; while I’m not sure what my plans are exactly, I would like to teach English, but freelance with these sort of projects on the side to develop a tangible service over time.

Another reason is that, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, education & creating empathy is  the first way in establishing trust. I believe media can play a huge role in disseminating my work. This story, rather than in the context of policy briefs and recommendations, planning documents, or news articles, will be told from a first-person perspective, from a human character that people can relate to.

Let’s set up a deadline by early January?

Am I an artist or a designer?

Screenshot: CNN

I used to think that these were the same thing until I started reading this article: putting down  your crayons. The article basically states that while an artist makes something without restriction and attempts to make an emotional impact, a designer makes something for a client that he/she can use.

Where do I fit in?

I initially started being interested in urban design, which allowed me to sketch out what makes a good public space, street, or neighborhood through drawing out what I saw in San Francisco. Overtime, I also started visiting websites such as Sensable City Lab which allowed me to see how info-graphics, data, real-time sensory mapping, can really help us understand the city in detail in order to make better decisions about where we live.

These two different experiences, in addition to taking a drawing class, inspired me to ask: how can we use art, science, and technology to better engage our people in the cities we live in in order to create a healthier, sustainable city? Coming from the art, I was really interested in the visual components of how people can better understand a particular issue to make better decisions.

The diagram above shows a color gradient of water shortage throughout China; I am really interested in how to communicate these ideas better to invite people to think about the places they live in.

Without belaboring the point too much, I would say that I am a specific type of designer: visual & communications design. I want my work to tell stories, to inspire people to use this information to make better decisions, ranging from the individual to the policy level.

However, I borrow elements of art; in some ways you can consider me an artist because I have to be concerned about the composition of what I show, the layout, the colors, etc.

Part of me is also an artist because I am telling a story; this means at times, there is no restriction (and at times there is, due to the client involved). This also depends on the project  that I am involved with.

In a sense, I essentially have to play both roles. I would consider a graphic journalist (i.e. a field I want to explore) a form of design because you are trying to use art to tell a story about a specific event, to inform citizens, allow them to empathize with a situation, to make better decisions.

The concept of trust in public participation

Thought I will stray a bit from my illustration/artsy/design posts and talk about a very simple concept in public participation in urban planning. It’s so simple, yet it’s so hard to get.


Simply put, if you want to get something done with a group of people, i.e. a community, you need to get their trust. If you want to solve a community problem –  for example, a lack of jobs or affordable housing, a need for public space, etc. – you need to get a community’s trust. If they don’t trust you, or there’s tension among the community, it will be very difficult to get things done.

But really, how do you establish a community’s trust?

This really depends on the type of project that an urban planning department is trying to implement:

Below is a diagram from the Public Participation Litmus Test which describes first when to do public participation:

Litumus Test For Public Participation

Essentially, a situation which is okay for people to be willing to participate in public participation is when: there is low cost and lots of benefit (or lots of things in it for them; i.e. lots of things at stake).

This is very important to attempt to convey; there has to be a lot of stake for a community for a community to participate, with little barriers of access, in order for a community to participate.

The question really is: what is considered a lot at stake is a very constructed view; i.e. it is a perception.

For example, we (i.e. the city planner) will perceive that a transit oriented development and creating walk-able cities is a very important issue in creating sustainable, resource-efficient healthy cities. We want our people to be healthy, we want our air to be healthier, we want to not depend on gasoline to move from one place to another, etc. etc.

But, the person may not be concerned with these issues. A working class dad is much concerned about being able to pay the rent, spend more time with family, and have a high quality of life. This person does not have time to focus on “walk-abilty” because to his eyes and ears, it is a concept he cannot relate to.

This is the key to establishing trust; how can you make these ideas of sustainable cities a worthwhile goal that people really should be concerned about, or have a huge stake on, that is framed around the user?

While I like the public participation litmus test, it assumes that there are a lot of issues that aren’t at stake for the majority of people. When, in reality, they are. We need to start worrying about the environment, education, housing costs for our children, transportation, public health, economy, etc. The question, is how?

It really is a legitimate concern that people don’t have time to participation (i.e. due to work, bureaucratic environment of the government, etc.); this is where you need to lower the barriers of access to engaging in public participation.

The process of lowering the barriers of access is, from one perspective, increasing trust. How do you increase trust?

I don’t have an answer to this question immediately; however, check out some examples of organizations and people who have attempted to find ways to engage people that lower the barriers of access and make it easy for people to be informed, engaged, in day-to-day urban planning issues:

By breaking down the barriers of access and re-framing the question to fit the needs of the user, which then increases the stakes of a particular issue, I believe this helps increase trust in a urban planning process. However, it is important to acknowledge that trust is one stage of public participation, as how does one keep the public engaged in a public issue for a longer period of time?

On Chinese creative youth culture and popular perception (Part 1)

Goods For Desire, a Hong Kong Lifestyle Brand Firm promoting elements of Hong Kong in popular consumer culture

Whenever you think of Korea or Japanese popular culture, people think of its music, dramas, celebrities, art, fashion, etc. While Japan has had a long history of cultural/artistic development, Korea has also been rapidly developing it’s art/entertainment/design culture especially within the last twenty years due to the Halyu.

But, what about Chinese creative/contemporary culture?

The images of mass production, factories, pirated goods (or cheap copies of American brands such as Nike, Apple, etc.) come up into mind. For many people I discuss about Chinese creative culture, these are the images that come up to mind.

This is the troubling thing that I find hard to discuss; as a Chinese-American, I also want to learn more about my culture and its art/design world, as well as be able to express it. Even among some Chinese / Chinese-American friends, there is very little interest in being willing to preserve or be involved in developing culture that is part of a distinct Chinese identity. If there is interest, what means do we start approaching the development of art/design in Chinese culture?

China has a very rich traditional music, painting, ceramic, architectural, theatrical, literary history.  I am very for preserving this, but how do we adapt these forces for a new global audience, where everything is interconnected? We are living in a society where people want to have new experiences, and these new experiences drive what makes a good quality of life.

When I asked on Facebook if anybody was interested in Chinese youth culture wanted to talk, I got interest from at least 5 of my friends; two wanted to talk to me, but even then, the knowledge about Chinese youth culture is limited.

The photo above shows how lifestyle brand company GOD tries to promote Hong Kong culture through the products it sells (a fusion of East and West, with the energy of the city). 

I would like to challenge artists, businesses, designers, chefs, and consumers to think about what is a distinct Chinese identity, a distinct brand, that people can enjoy or experience in the global arena. While globalization tends to modernize everything and make things exactly the same (Coca Cola or McDonalds), I argue that China can contribute to the diversity of experiences people in the global world have, based on his historical and strong cultural past, while adapting to the changing needs of society.