Hong Kong design students' ad campaign inspired by organic farm visit

Students leave the classroom and learn how to develop an advertising campaign about organic farming by connecting with the farmers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 6:20am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 6:20am

Casting aside the modern strategy of drawing in a classroom or researching online, a group of design students found inspiration for a campaign they were working on by visiting a Mui Wo organic farm.

The students, from Savannah College of Art and Design Hong Kong, travelled to Roselle Garden to understand how its owner, Mabel Kwong ran her farm. For many of the students, it was their first excursion to a local farm, where they saw fresh tomatoes hanging on the vines. In talking to Kwong, they learned how organic crops were produced without conventional pesticides and how the farmer created fertilisers through composting.

Picking produce of their own choice, they eventually worked together to cook a meal to experience how different organic food tasted.

This was a collaborative project involving pairs of advertising and art students. After the field trip, the advertising student had to devise a campaign to promote locally produced organic fruits and vegetables while the art student drew the concepts. Art and design classes in Hong Kong and abroad are increasingly engaging students in community-based exercises because it leads them away from the hypothetical to find inspiration by engaging with people. What's more, it is also a way of serving social needs.

The field trip was the brainchild of Savannah College Hong Kong professors Xavier Pick and Ronald Wilcox. In view of the food scandals in recent years, they organised the trip in the hope the students could truly taste the difference between food sold at supermarkets and that sourced directly from farmers.

Living in Mui Wo, Pick discovered that the local farming community had a basic need: although there is a plethora of market gardeners in the area, the public doesn't know about them as they lack publicity.

Pick, who teaches illustration, said the school would rather see students do their primary research for their project through first-hand experience than takethe easy option of search engine results.

"This experience was a catalyst for their learning, as there is no better way to really understand a concept such as growing organic food than through meeting local producers and through the sense of sight, touch, smell and - most importantly - taste," Pick says. "Subtle and imaginative responses are infused into their work through these creative field trip adventures."

Wilcox, who specialises in advertising, says the field trip helped students approach the subject of advertising differently. "It is not just about selling the products; it is about working with the community," he says.

Nobody understands the process it takes for the products to look so fresh
Melissa Albarus, student

While most students had a general idea about organic farming before the trip, they were impressed by the farmers' passion. Many say they will reconsider their shopping habits at supermarkets.

Fourth-year advertising major Kira Albarus says she was inspired and touched by the humanity that was experienced through the process.

"The farmers care so much about customers' health. There is love behind it," she says. "It reminded me that while it is easy to buy from Wellcome, it is worth making the extra effort to go to somewhere that is local and support the farmers."

Her drawing partner, Viki Chan Yee-wa, says she sympathises with the difficult life of Hong Kong farmers and wonders how they survive.

Those sentiments inspired them to come up with an "exaggerated" image to advise people against eating toxic food. The key image being developed is an apple with mechanical parts.

Targeting office workers, the campaign aims at alerting people how fruits can be "beautiful on the outside but ugly on the inside". A series of posters is being developed along the same lines using various types of fruit.

During the design process, the students were instructed to research the food market, the amount of chemicals that could exist in our food, as well as their target audience.

To further develop the design concept, the professors encouraged them to extend it to other media forms. Instead of just putting up posters in business districts, they also wanted to set up a pop-up salad bar in the heart of Central. The idea was to sell salads with so-called toxic sauces to illustrate the food scare.

Art student Daniel Cohen and advertising student Melissa Albarus say the visit enabled them to reconnect with the local community and made them want to educate people who often lack knowledge about food origins.

The main target group they picked consisted of consumers in their 20s, who are used to buying food from supermarkets.

"They don't really think about where the food came from," Melissa Albarus says. "Nobody understands the process it takes for the products to look so fresh."

The students worked together to design a satirical series of fruit characters being flown from abroad. One of the key images was a cartoon pineapple on a plane, with the word "pesticide" sprayed on its head. Other fruit characters such as a strawberry, banana and orange all showed signs of travel sickness. They wore oxygen masks and popped pills to "get well".

Through their research, they understood how important it was to launch their campaign online so that their illustrations could spread across social media platforms. Similar to the first group, they wanted to extend their campaign by developing an app in which people see the "sickness". Pick and Wilcox say the community-inspired design projects will continue in the hope that they help improve social cohesion.

"This is a two-way process, in which local people benefit from being celebrated through visual art and design, and young students are encouraged by the wealth of experience that local people have to give," Pick says.

Wilcox concurs, saying that if the design project could help the students appreciate what the farms have to offer, it do the same for the general public. You're never too busy to learn by just looking around you.