Freshman’s design fights food insecurity

Two people side by side, the one to the left is turned around to show the back of shirt which has a ramen bowl with depictions of COVID on it, saying “WHO is going to save US?” on the bottom.
Ho’s T-shirt was sold on Fundamentals’ website, a community brand based in New York, and earned $600, which Ho donated to the nonprofit SF New Deal that aims to support small businesses during the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Loren Gutierrez)

Haley Ho was in middle school when she took her first graphic design multimedia course. Falling in love with the field, she did not always think it could be an employment path for her. 

This changed, however, when Ho, now a freshman majoring in arts, technology and the business of innovation, learned about user experience, or UX, design. UX design focuses on functionality and user interaction, such as how it feels in someone’s hand or any emotional reaction its design could evoke.

“I found out … that UX design, in particular, was a field, and it was a growing one that people were actually getting jobs in,” she said. “I felt like it really aligned with my interests in  human behavior, visual art and design.”

Over the summer, Ho put her interest in UX design to practice by designing a T-shirt, inspired by a desire to bridge global experiences of the pandemic, for a design contest. Ho found out about the contest  from the Instagram stories of other students she met during the Iovine and Young Academy’s interview weekend. The contest, hosted by Fundamentals, a community brand based in New York, was a T-shirt design contest open to incoming college students. The winner would get a $5,000 scholarship to put towards their education. 

Loren Gutierrez, co-founder of Fundamentals, said she was motivated to host the competition by her own experiences as a low-income college freshman. 

“My co-founder and I both had received financial aid when we went to our universities so we knew [how essential] a need it was, especially with COVID. We wanted to do something geared towards incoming college students,” Gutierrez said. 

Gutierrez, a recent design graduate from Syracuse University, founded Fundamentals with her friend, Brian De La Cruz, over the summer due to the political climate at the time. While attending Black Lives Matter protests, she found herself wanting to do more to help the movement and decided to start making shirts to sell at protests in her community.

“[De La Cruz and I] used [the proceeds] to buy snacks, water and PPE for the protesters,” Guiterrez said. “We realized we were getting a lot more support than we anticipated, and we had a lot of money, so we were like, ‘Okay, what do we do next?’”

Following the success of their shirts Gutierrez and De La Cruz decided to create grants for small Black- and brown-owned businesses in their community, before deciding to give back to incoming college students through their competition.

When Ho saw this opportunity, her mind went to an oil painting sketch she had worked on for a high school assignment earlier in the year. 

“I didn’t get to finish the oil painting because my school shut down just as [we got the assignment] and I felt kind of unsatisfied.,” Ho said. “I felt like I could use [the design] somewhere just because it’s so relevant to what’s going on right now.”

The front of the shirt says “twenty twenty,” the identical words mirroring each other, referencing the start of the pandemic. The design on the back of the T-shirt features a ramen bowl, a deliberate choice by Ho.

“I initially gravitated towards the concept of using a ramen bowl to represent the coronavirus situation because I remember, at school, the overarching narrative about the coronavirus was that is was in China, it was in Asia, it was just contained in Asia — it wasn’t going to come to the U.S. necessarily,” Ho said. 

There are many smaller designs within the ramen bowl, each representing something about the coronavirus, including a small cruise ship sailing in the noodles and Princess Cruises’s logo on the outside of the bowl. 

“[The cruise ship]was supposed to represent the initial cases that came to the Bay Area and the U.S.,” Ho said. “That was the time I started to panic about the coronavirus, but I didn’t know if my concerns were valid because no one else was super concerned at the time.”

Stephen Child, an associate professor and chair of design at the Iovine and Young Academy, taught Ho in her first semester, in the course “Rapid Visualization.” The course is required for first-year Academy students and teaches the fundamentals of product drawing, with an emphasis on quick sketching. In the course, students focus on “the creative problem-solving process.” 

“She was very good in the class, one of my best students in this area,” Child said. “Her creative ability was present in the class. She solved problems in an interesting and creative way.”

When Gutierrez saw Ho’s design, she was intrigued by its relevance. 

“We thought the [ramen bowl] was very interesting and very different. [Haley] wanted to shed light [on] the Asian community, but also you can look more closely to see the details and the seriousness of [the pandemic],” Gutierrez said. “It was very intricate and different from all the other designs we received.”

Fundamentals selected Ho as one out of five finalists. Then, each design was posted on Instagram, and the winner was chosen based on the number of likes each post received. 

While Ho did not win the scholarship, Fundamentals still sold her design on their t-shirts. Through word of mouth and social media promotion, Ho received $600 in sales. 

Inspired by the continuing coronavirus pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and her hometown of the Bay Area, Ho donated these funds to SF New Deal, a non-profit organization that provides supportive services and financial opportunities to small businesses in San Francisco affected by the pandemic. For Ho, her decision to donate to SF New Deal “made a lot of sense” because of the shirt’s ties to the coronavirus and the organization’s work in her hometown. 

“There were also so many things going on related to things like the Black Lives Matter movement and other social justice movements that I felt like keeping all the proceeds to myself just didn’t feel right,” Ho said. “I wanted to take action in some way.”

According to SF New Deal chief operating officer Jenais Zarlin, Ho’s donation provided 60 meals prepared by local restaurants to people experiencing food insecurity. 

In addition to helping her community, Ho is thankful for the opportunity for her art to make an appearance in public. 

“Anytime I see someone wear [my design], it makes me happy that my work is physically out in the world,” Ho said. “Seeing it being worn was a really nice feeling.”