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a public dialogue on food insecurity


1 month, Aug - Sept 2019


Mechanism Design, Graphic/ Visual Design, Physical Prototyping, Ethnographic Interview


Cherry Wu, Kartikye Mittal,
Cameron Chaney, Christina Dela Cruz 

Wacdonald’s is an interactive intervention that brings awareness to the issue of food insecurity by underlining the malicious practices and branding tactics used by big food corporations like McDonald’s.

For this project, I led site observation and analysis, designed and executed the visual identity of the Wacdonald’s brand, and helped to build the final product with woodwork. 

The Context

Conventional wisdom holds that food consumption is a matter of private choice and free will. Yet, we learned that food oppression is a form of structural injustice that builds on and deepens pre-existing disparities along race and class lines, and the fast-food industry and the government are complicit in the oppression of certain vulnerable groups.

The Wacdonald's Happy Meal Box aims to satirize and expose the fast-food giant’s harmful practices by delivering the message that “McDonald’s is feeding you trash!”. The bold and eye-catching design intends to grab the attention of passersby and invite participants to have thoughtful conversations about food insecurity.


The Space

Our chosen site is the McDonald’s on University Avenue that is frequently visited by students and Berkeley locals. To pinpoint how people interact with the space, we visited the site in two periods: morning and midnight. During the day, corner conversations by the bus stop were prevalent and there was a constant flow of pedestrians by the entrance of the store. The scene changes at night, where we noticed a regular homeless community that gathered outside the entrance and creatively re-appropriated public facilities like bike racks in the area to build shelters.

Inspired by how people redefined the public space, we decided to repurpose the lid-less trash-bin directly facing the storefront of McDonald’s as our point of focus. The device captured our attention as we watched many deliberately avoiding walking near it, and wondered if we could repurpose it into a thought-provoking facility to engage passersby. 

During the day, the intersection is met with crowds coming in and out of the restaurant.

At night, the storefront becomes a gathering spot for the homeless community and is often avoided by passersby. 

The Making

During our making and prototyping process, we focused on the durability and visibility of the device. First, the lid was modeled with careful measurements to fit the standard Berkeley City trash bin using CAD drawing. We then tested the dimensions with cardboard mock-ups, before building the entire mechanism out of ¼” plywood.

The critical challenge was finding a way to secure the lid to the trash-bin while allowing for easy detachment in case of vandalism. We initially considered designing a fixed wooden fasten along the side, but later replaced it with straps that would allow us to tie it to the handles of the trash bin. Subsequently, we also faced difficulties mounting the triangular “fold” at 60º angles and had to sand it down to the correct angle on the edges for better structural stability.

We ensured that the device is consistent with McDonald’s brand. This is done by incorporating the existing fonts, colors, and well known “I’m Lovin’ It” slogan into our design. Apart from painting the piece with McDonald’s signature red and yellow, we also provided give-away vinyl cut stickers as happy meal toys for participants to take or vote for their stance on the fast-food industry. 


The Deployment

We deployed the Wacdonald’s Happy Meal Box at 10 am in the morning and 6 pm at night to observe people’s reactions. Most pedestrians stopped and paused to take photos of the installation, while groups of friends circled around to converse about the intent of the box. The piece brought smiles to younger children’s faces as they took away free stickers, and the interactive poll also initiated meaningful conversations between strangers on how public art can engage active social dialogues.

At night, we noticed individuals from the homeless community attempting to detach the box using a cutter. We decided to leave the installation unattended overnight and were pleasantly surprised to find it being repurposed into a dog shelter by a homeless individual outside McDonald’s. 

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The Takeaway

Public intervention is no longer constrained to canvases or sculptures, but rather, one can make use of dynamic and interactive elements that engage the participant’s senses. The project sought to capture the short attention span of pedestrians and create immersion as individuals gather to start intentional dialogues around it.


Meet the Wacdonald's Team!

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