Fast food provides a lesson in Porter's classroom

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Marianetta Porter (above) uses items universally familiar to students--fast-food containers--to challenge her design students. Their containers hold everything from a corsage of fresh flowers to a half dozen bagels. Photos by Bob Kalmbach

"It's one of the things incoming students know best," says Marianetta Porter, an associate professor of art at the School of Art and Design. "Students know all about fast food. But why do the containers have to be so generic?"

Posing this question to her class of first-year art students, Porter turns them loose to design a carry-out container for donuts, a slice of pizza, fresh flowers or a Chinese delectable. The assignment requires that the container be a "pop-up," and aesthetically pleasing. Each has to be free of glued pieces---use tabs only; be fully collapsible to fit in stacks under a serving counter; utilize creases, folds and cuts, and be easy and quick for restaurant staff to assemble.

"Most students at the freshman level," Porter says, "question what assignments have to do with what they want to do with the rest of their life. But with this assignment, they have a personal experience they can relate to. I like to get them started with something they can connect to."

In Porter's basic design class, the students choose what type of container they want to design: something for an individual-sized pizza, two donuts and a cup of coffee, a six-pack of donuts, a single corsage or flower, or a container with separate compartments for a Chinese "combo" take-out dinner.

While the students generate the overall patterns for their designs on computers, they have to figure out how both the motif and color will relate to the food product, what happens to flowers enclosed in a box, what happens to the design once the container is folded, and whether the edges meet. Once a design is decided on, it is silk-screened onto a flat sheet of Bristol board and the cutting, creasing and folding begin.

This project, Porter says, not only gives students experience in creating a two-dimensional design used in the overall pattern, but also gives them the opportunity to work with a three-dimensional concept involving a product with which the student is familiar.