WWU food truck design competition leads to real-world possibilities

For one class at Western Washington University, the final project didn’t just have grade implications. It also could lead to a paycheck.

On Thursday, Dec. 11, Bachelor of Fine Arts students in the WWU design program competed against one another in the Food Truck Challenge, presenting their ideas for rebranding local food trucks to a panel of judges that included the food truck owners.

The class of 10 students split into two groups, with five offering designs for local food truck Hot Mess, and the other five for food truck StrEAT Food. A faculty member, professional designer and business owner judged each design concept.

The illustration ideas included alien forms of bacon and potatoes, abstract expressions of macaroni, and a monster hungry for StrEAT Food.

Tristan Wood won the design for Hot Mess by keeping a simple black-and-white color scheme, with illustrated food symbols meant to attract customers. He credited the class and entire BFA program for making the curriculum both exciting and practical.

“The BFA program has really brought a holistic perspective to what design really is,” Wood said.

The winning students earned a gift bag, and the potential to work for the owners outside of class turned out to be a real possibility. Hot Mess owner Natale Piro said she already talked to Wood about paying him to help with some design elements of the food truck following the presentation.

The winner of the StrEAT Food competition, Ben Young, created a design with a wildcat covering the side of the truck, and Young told the judges, “I’m doing everything I possibly can to get you to look at this thing.”

It worked for Poem Pitzer, co-owner of StrEAT Food, who said she is going to take some of the ideas from all five students home to her husband, the other co-owner. They are unlikely to completely redesign the truck, however. The cost to wrap the vehicle with a new design would be around $6,000, although she said she would “absolutely” use a similar design if they had the money.

Brittany Schade, associate professor who taught the BFA seminar course, said each teacher can focus on a different aspect of design for the class, and she chose to focus on environmental design.

“Learning to interact with real-world clients is really important, and it’s one of those things that students don’t really learn in school, and one of those things that I wanted to bridge with this project,” Schade said.

The Food Truck Challenge was the second major project of the quarter. The first was a national competition in which the students collaborated to redesign the in-store experience for an REI in Washington, D.C.

She decided to organize the Food Truck Challenge so students could work on their presentation skills while allowing the business owners to reach out to the students if they liked their ideas. The project let students experiment with illustration, lettering and typography, and forced them to reach outside of their comfort zones, Schade said.

Young, with the winning StrEAT food design, said the environmental design class will help his career.

“I’ve been introduced to it and really like it,” Young said. “It opened new doors.”