Building poster boards, prepping notecards… and pitching your idea to Martha Stewart? This isn’t your ordinary second period assignment. It’s a chance for teens around the country to flex their design skills—and for 15-year-old Tova Kleiner of Manhattan, it’s turned out to mean so much more. Earlier this year, Tova dreamt up a way to get more healthy, fresh food onto seniors’ plates and entered—and won!—the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s National High School Design Competition (Target’s a proud partner). With a dose of inspiration from her grandmother, a fresh idea and some expert guidance from a panel of experts, Tova’s out to help seniors and those who are homebound eat well—and build a sense of connection and community along the way.
At Target, we believe great design—and super-talented young people—can help solve real problems. So for the second year running, we’ve teamed up with Cooper Hewitt to encourage budding designers to think big via the National High School Design Competition. We mentor finalists along their journeys, and the winner even gets to visit Target HQ. While the young designers’ ideas won’t necessarily make their way onto Target shelves, it’s an incredible learning opportunity for everyone involved.
This year’s competition, “Good for All,” challenged 13 to 19-year-olds to share ideas to help some of the nearly 30 million Americans who struggle with access to affordable, fresh foods. And early this summer, we got to meet and mentor Tova and two other teen finalists, from helping them refine their early concepts to prepping to pitch their big ideas to a seriously-talented panel of judges, including Stewart and Target’s chief creative officer and Cooper Hewitt trustee Todd Waterbury. “Design’s part of our DNA at Target, and we’re honored to nurture the next generation of designers across the country,” says Todd. “I was incredibly impressed and inspired by Tova and the other finalists’ clarity, empathy—and their passion for using design to create real change. I can’t wait to see what these talented teens will do next.”
So, what’s it like to enter—and win—a high-profile design competition at just 15 years old? Tova takes us on her journey, below.
First, tell us a little about you. What shaped your interest in food—and in design?
I’ve always loved creating things and solving problems, whether it was making little dolls as a child or tackling challenges in math class. I like to think in terms of solving a puzzle—and food scarcity’s a big problem or puzzle to solve. Because I have severe allergies, I’ve had to think a lot about what goes into my own food. But I was really interested in considering the other side of the food service model—how healthy foods make it onto people’s plates.
How did you come up with the winning idea?
When I first heard about the design competition, I immediately thought of my grandmother, Leah. As a senior living in an urban community, she has talked about how hard it is to get out to pick up fresh produce—and then how heavy it can be to haul home. So getting healthy, locally-sourced produce onto seniors’ plates became my focus.
But after a lot of research and bouncing ideas off my grandmother, I knew I’d need to find a way to help seniors and anyone who is homebound maintain their autonomy—they get to choose what they want to eat and work with any dietary restrictions—but in an easier-to-manage way. So I created a special container that divides their preferred produce by day and freshness to limit spoilage and waste. Essentially, all my grandma would have to do would be to fill out a form showing her preferences, and later a container of fresh produce would arrive, neatly organized into daily portions according to freshness.
Then I started to think about some of my previous visits to the elderly with my synagogue. I’d seen first-hand how those visits brightened people’s days. That led to another big idea—I’d have high school students deliver the produce. It’s a chance for people to connect across generations, while promoting healthy eating. Take a closer look at how the idea comes to life.
Throughout the competition, you worked with mentors from Cooper Hewitt and Target, who helped you refine your ideas. What was that like?
I’d never designed for anyone before, so to talk to experts in the field who are not only unbelievably knowledgeable, but really willing to help, was incredible. They helped me think more deeply about the customer and their needs—for example, I decided to focus just on refrigerated produce to streamline the process even more for seniors. And I got to meet and learn from the other finalists, too. It was so great to see that there are other teens around the country who are interested in design.
Tell us about competition day—You presented to some pretty accomplished judges…
Prepping for the presentation was very hard because I don’t like to get up in front of people to talk. But I realized that I had to do this—and it was really good for me and helped me grow. And I was a bit intimidated by the judges at first—I expected to be grilled with questions! They did have some really tough questions, but they were so amazing and helpful. They offered interesting suggestions based on their own design experience.
And one of the perks of winning—you got to spend some time touring Target’s headquarters in Minneapolis. What was your biggest ah-ha?
I’m so thankful to Cooper Hewitt and Target for the learning experience! I got to walk through headquarters and a store with Target leaders, and what really stuck out was that great design is so much more than the product you’re creating—you’re designing an entire experience.
I’m looking forward to seeing my design displayed at Target stores in Manhattan, and to attending Cooper Hewitt’s Teen Design Fair this fall. And this is just the start… This entire process has opened a lot of new perspectives for me—I’ve grown a lot and know I’ll be able to keep pushing my comfort zone going forward. Most importantly, I’ve learned that I’m much more capable than I ever imagined—and I’d tell other young people and aspiring designers that they are, too.
We have to ask—what does Grandma think?
She’s incredibly proud. She says she always knew I could do this.
Want to learn more about the National High School Design Competition? Check out this site, then stay tuned later this fall for news about next year’s competition!
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