Graphic Design Projects Explore Diabetes Prevention and Management

Pennsylvania’s Cambria and Somerset counties currently face a diabetes epidemic. Approximately 13 percent of adults in this area have type 2 diabetes, with 30 to 40 percent of adults classified as obese.

To explore opportunities for intervention, graphic design communication seniors developed a design system that provides information, tools and resources to this rural community about type 2 diabetes prevention and disease management.

The students enrolled in the systems design integration course worked with the 1889 Jefferson Center for Population Health, whose mission is to improve the health and wellness of people in Cambria and Somerset counties through collaboration, research and education.

In addition, the graphic design students partnered with third-year pharmacy students in the diabetes immersion class taught by Amy Egras, PharmD, BCPS, associate professor of pharmacy practice at Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University). Dr. Egras loved the innovation she saw in the final presentations and said both the pharmacy and graphic design students benefited from the design-thinking activity.

“The student pharmacists had the opportunity to teach graphic design students about diabetes, and they got to see healthcare presented in a different way that was creative and fun for people with diabetes,” Dr. Egras said.

Elizabeth Shirrell, MFA, assistant professor of graphic design communication, said the collaborative workshop with the pharmacy students proved invaluable to the project’s success.

“The client’s challenge required our students to analyze the people of Cambria and Somerset county’s needs, wants, values and patterns of behavior, using a variety of human-centered research methods in order to identify opportunities for design interventions,” said Shirrell, who taught the course with graphic design faculty members Frank Baseman and Renee Walker. “This design-thinking workshop focused on building patient empathy and understanding by allowing the two groups to download and share their knowledge with one another, identify themes and insights, and ultimately, hone in on a design opportunity. This was a great experience of interprofessional interaction and active learning possible at Jefferson.”

The nine teams of graphic design students presented their final projects in the Kanbar Performance Space on Dec. 5. Senior Eryn Griffin and her team addressed the issue of food deserts in the region and designed “Farm to Fridge,” a brand system that partners with farmers to bring local, fresh produce to the residents of Cambria and Somerset counties through a mobile market produce truck. She said the project taught her about working collaboratively, as well as with a client and other professionals outside of design.

“We learned more about the disease and the empathy needed when working with a patient,” Griffin said. “We understood what the people of Somerset and Cambria counties were going through and used that empathy to make our project even stronger.”

Senior Kori Hirsch team’s focused on the working-class residents in Johnstown, Pa., who often lack time to go to the grocery store for fresh food, to cook meals and to exercise, their research showed. They designed “On-Site,” an initiative that works with employers to deliver healthy, delicious and affordable meals to their employers through food trucks.

“I love human-centered design because I have the opportunity to step into the shoes of someone else and find out what they really need,” she said. “It’s also extremely rewarding to connect all the steps of the design process—research, ideation, design—and create something that really solves a problem that nothing else currently solves. Lastly, getting to work with a real client and having the chance to absorb new knowledge is something we need as designers to expand our talents and really grow within real-world solutions.”

Other projects presented included healthy snacks geared for kids, an awareness campaign to encourage family bonding and getting people physically active, and a “welcome box” given to patients when diagnosed with diabetes.

“Addressing diabetes prevention and control in a rural population within a graphic design course provides many opportunities to advance our students’ perspective on future design careers, as well as an opportunity to demonstrate the significant role design can play in mitigating a national health epidemic,” said Neil Harner, director of the digital and graphic design communication programs at Jefferson.

Both the pharmacy and graphic design students benefited from the design-thinking workshop.