Hand-crafted hamburgers made with organic grass-fed beef. Wood-oven pizza topped with handmade cheese and seasonal vegetables. Korean tacos stuffed with locally sourced ingredients. Some of the best and most sustainable American food is currently being served by the artisanal food trucks and street vendors that are sprouting up all over the U.S. The USA Pavilion at the food-themed Expo Milano 2015 pays tribute to this casual culinary revolution at "Food Truck Nation," an installation of six food trucks that offers a rotating menu of regional favorites.
Pentagram has designed wayfinding graphics for “Food Truck Nation” that build on the identity they developed for the USA Pavilion, designed by Biber Architects. Appearing in patriotic red, white and blue, the system of 160 custom icons works in tandem with the flag symbol to create a playful take on American iconography. The circular symbols are inspired by highway and roadside signs, as well as icons used in farming and agriculture, and graphically complement the massive billboard-size flag logo that anchors the Pavilion.
The official theme of the USA Pavilion is “American Food 2.0"—about how food has evolved to get better—and Food Truck Nation gives Expo visitors an opportunity to experience the latest American food trend and sample authentic fare made with wholesome and sustainable ingredients. The installation is a tasty counterpart to the exhibitions in the Pavilion, which focus on agricultural innovations like vertical farming. Food Truck Nation is tucked into a lot near the Pavilion, with the six trucks arranged in a fairground-like space with bleacher seating that provides a shady spot to eat.
Individual trucks are designated for various categories like burgers, barbecue, dessert and seafood, as well as beverages, with an emphasis on regional cuisine like Texas barbecue, New England lobster rolls and Philadelphia cheesecake. Different state tourism organizations and farming associations can sponsor the trucks for a week or two to highlight specific ingredients and food types like California avocados, Wisconsin cheese, or spicy L.A. food.
The designers had fun creating a graphic smorgasbord of icons and pictograms: cows, chickens, vegetables, donuts, kebabs, roadside “chow” signs, half-eaten cookies, patterns of stars and stripes, spirals and spatulas. Some are humorous and depict American cultural icons like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Abraham Lincoln (recognized by his hat and beard) and Kanye West (represented by his signature louvered sunglasses). Words and slogans also appear (“Let’s Eat” and “Yum”), along with hashtags ("#TasteUSA"). New icons can be created or customized for specific events, like rainbow versions for Milan’s Pride Week in June.
Food Truck Nation is officially presented by the Friends of the US Pavilion Milano 2015 (comprised of the James Beard Foundation, the International Culinary Center, and the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy) and has many corporate partners. One challenge for the designers was how to integrate the logos of these supporters into the graphics. The icons are perfect for this; a logo for Pepsi or Microsoft can slip in on a plate among all the other symbols.
The icons are also natural fit for signage. Food symbols are installed on the pavement of the main Expo thoroughfare to help guide visitors from the Pavilion to Food Truck Nation. Different icons can be slotted into truck menu boards to highlight specific ingredients during state-sponsored weeks. The circles can also contain information like allergy disclaimers and alcohol warnings, and the designers created a “no smoking” sign that combines a lit cigarette with the letter “X.”
The graphics have been extended to the James Beard American Restaurant at Seven Stars Galleria in central Milan, a pop-up that presents more extensive five-course, regional and prix-fixe menus prepared by visiting guest chefs from across the U.S. The restaurant’s run has coincided with the reopening of the Galleria’s interiors following a major restoration, and has been extremely popular with locals and Expo visitors alike.
For the restaurant, the designers curated a selection of icons and added a few more that appear exclusively at the location, such as a bow tie that is nod to James Beard’s signature accessory. Custom plates were created using four of the icons, and a patterned wall was installed that serves as a backdrop for Expo events like Michelle Obama’s cooking lesson with visiting chef Mario Batali.
Visitors can take the icons and Pavilion symbol home with them on a range of souvenirs and Pavilion-themed merchandise, including flatware (the same series of plates used in the James Beard American Restaurant is available), mugs, espresso cups, buttons, hats, aprons, totes, t-shirts and even baby onesies.