Using Design to Improve Diabetes Prevention and Management

The 1889 Jefferson Center for Population Health, is an innovative research center, aiming to improve the health and wellness of Cambria and Somerset through the implementation of innovative, population-based health interventions.

In Fall 2018, senior graphic design communication students enrolled in the course Systems Design Integration, collaborated with the 1889 Jefferson Center for Population Health, an innovative research center, aiming to improve the health and wellness of Cambria and Somerset in Western Pennsylvania through the implementation of innovative, population-based health interventions. This was a semester long, team-based project that challenged students to develop a design system that would provide information, tools and resources to their rural community about type 2 diabetes prevention and disease management.

The process began with divergent thinking fueled by research methods such as observational studies, surveys, interviews, and contextual inquiries. Through this research students identified new ways to understand the diabetes as it relates to rural communities then used convergent thinking to identify problems that could be solved through design. Once students began design exploration, they continued their research process by testing prototypes to direct further iteration. Faculty invited subject matter experts to visit classes and advise student groups and helped students evaluate the effectiveness and appropriateness of their ideas against issues connected to the subject and targeted audiences. The subject matter experts included:

  • To understand the target demographic, Dr. Trina Thompson, Executive Director, 1889 Jefferson Center for Population Health, launched the semester with an overview of Cambria and Somerset counties, highlighting the important perspectives and contexts of its people and communities.
  • To better understand the problem, Dr. Amy Egras presented a comprehensive overview of diabetes from diagnosis, to management, treatment and prevention.
  • To build empathy for diabetics and understand behavioral drivers, design students partnered with third-year student pharmacists, enrolled in Dr. Egras’ course Diabetes Immersion, for a design thinking workshop. Student groups used patient personas to move through a sequence of design thinking methods to gain a better understanding of the impacts the disease has on patients’ everyday lives.
  • To better understand the role and responsibilities of a designer when designing for community health initiatives, students heard from with Dr. Renata Schiavo, a world-renowned expert in health communication. She stressed through examples the need to abandon biases and assumptions by designing with people from the community, rather than for them.

A selection of student group’s solutions:

Farm to Fridge:
Designers: Abbey Pitzer, Patrice Sakalosky, & Eryn Griffin
Learning that Cambria and Somerset counties are rich in agriculture but have many food deserts, lead the group to propose Farm to Fridge—a mobile produce truck that takes produce from farms in the area directly to the residents. Farm to Fridge helps empower rural residents to improve their quality of life through education about healthy eating habits, collaborating with local farmers, and creating a sense of community. The design system includes a monthly publication that helps people with portion control and healthy recipes; a starter kit with tools for cooking; a calendar that houses information about fresh food and a mobile market app that notifies people when the truck is coming and what produce is available that week.

Super Snax:
Designers: Juan Ramirez, Aisha Sims & Jessica Whelihan
A snack company that provides healthier alternatives to traditional sugar-filled favorites, like potato chips, sodas and cookies. Super Snax builds their brand around kids, offering family snack-making classes around the community, stocking school vending machines with healthy snack, and encouraging continued healthy snacking through a companion app which rewards them with free snacks. There’s a companion comic book that educates Cambria and Somerset counties on the challenges of type-2 diabetes and the importance of forming better snacking habits.

On Site:
Designers: Kori Hirsch, Bret Roberts & Vanessa Artuz
On Site’s mission is to integrate healthy eating into the daily routines of hard-working individuals who may not have the time to properly care for their own health. On Site is an initiative that works with employers to deliver healthy, delicious, and affordable meals to their employees through the use of a food truck. Meals are categorized to cater to different employee’s dietary needs, the meal experience is incentivizing to maintain good eating habits through the use of an app and supported through community events and recipe cards with spice mixtures. On Site’s mission helps employers save on healthcare costs.


Beth Shirrell

Beth holds degrees in Visual Communication Design (a BFA from the University of Dayton) and Graphic and Interactive Design (an MFA from Tyler School of […]

Frank Baseman

In the fiftieth anniversary Jan./Feb. 2013 issue of Graphic Design USA Magazine he was named as one of the “Most Influential Graphic Designers Working Today.” […]

Renee Walker

Renee graduated from California College of the Arts with an interdisciplinary MFA in Design. Walker has experience working in all aspects of communication design from traditional […]

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