Using design thinking for solutions to food insecurity, food well-being


Radford University associate professor of marketing Jane Machin, Ph.D., is the author of a chapter in a new book exploring the role of design thinking to improve food well-being and reduce food insecurity on college campuses.

Machin’s chapter, “Food Well-Being in the Higher Education Sector: How to Leverage Design Thinking to Create Healthy and Pleasurable Food Experiences Among College Students,” can be found in the recently published “Design Thinking for Food Well-Being: The Art of Designing Innovative Food Experiences.”

The book, edited by internationally renowned marketing expert Wided Batat, can be accessed digitally through Radford University’s McConnell Library.

Machin’s chapter, she said, “explores the meaning of food well-being among undergraduate students in North America” and delves into the concept of ensuring accessible, affordable, healthy and pleasurable food practices that can be critical to academic success for students enrolled in colleges and universities.

Important, too, Machin said, is the role college administrators play in ensuring innovative campus dining experiences to successfully recruit and retain students “in an increasingly competitive education market.”

Data and findings revealed in the chapter were developed in Machin’s Marketing 101: Creativity and Innovation course, which “involved all my students working on designing a collaborative solution to reducing food insecurity and improving food well-being,” said Machin, winner of the Radford University’s 2020 Donald N. Dedmon Distinguished Teaching Professor Award.

Throughout the semester-long creativity marketing course, students implemented design thinking practices to generate digitally inspired solutions in five domains of food well-being: food availability, food literacy, food marketing, food socialization and food policy.

In the first three weeks of the course, Machin wanted her students to develop an empathetic understanding of the food-related issues on a university campus. As part of the task, students conducted individual field visits to record observations of behavior at multiple Radford University campus food locations throughout the day using handwritten notes and photographs. 

“Field visits provide an unbiased, firsthand perspective of the problem, often challenging preconceptions and revealing surprising insights about unmet needs,” Machin said.

From the insights they gained, Machin’s students developed about 20 summary profiles that represented various populations among students. These profiles were used to develop specific, actionable problem statements.

In weeks four through six of the marketing course, Machin’s students worked on a series of ideation exercises to develop solutions, with each involving digital technology, given its central role in the daily lives of students. More than 500 potential solutions were generated, and students used design thinking techniques to identify the most promising ideas. Paper prototypes of these final ideas were developed and tested with student peers, first in a concept poster and then in the form of a magazine article reporting “the successful launch of an idea,” she said.

Findings from the class, Machin said, “can help education institutions, and the commercial food service industry, improve the food experiences of this tech-savvy generation.”

At a basic level, Machin said, “our results revealed a strong desire for a smartphone app, integrated within existing software, that allows students to check opening hours, browse menus, identify seating availability and order and purchase online. Students also wanted a way to more easily share “swipes” from their meal plans with friends in need.

 “We strongly recommend,” Machin continued, “food service providers apply design thinking to their own innovative processes.”

Mar 11, 2021
Chad Osborne