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Kent State Student Designers Combat Malaria With Award-Winning Work

Posted Aug. 12, 2013 | Anne Dudley
enter photo description
Kent State student designers developed a set of cards
aimed at identifying common symptoms of malaria to aid
practitioners in communication during treatment.

Students in the Master of Fine Arts program in the School of Visual Communication Design at Kent State University earned Student Notable Honoree status, placing them in the top six of all national entries, in the Core77 2013 Design Awards for their Healthcare Visuals Kibera project. This was the second award the team earned last month, with Metropolis magazine naming it runner-up in its Next Generation Design Competition.

Graduate students Penina Acayo of Kampala, Uganda; Brito Diego of San Salvador, El Salvador; Adina Feigenbaum of Beachwood, Ohio; Jason Goupil of Cleveland; Ian McCullough of West Middlesex, Pa.; and Andrew Schwanbeck of Cranberry Township, Pa., developed the project under direction of Ken Visocky O’Grady, associate professor of visual communication design, in the Graduate Studio course.

Visocky O’Grady connected the students to Justin Ahrens of Rule29 and Life in Abundance, an African-led nonprofit that helps to train, equip and empower local churches to serve the poor. The students spent a semester researching healthcare, literacy and malaria in Kibera, a slum outside Narobi, Kenya. The team developed, tested and refined a set of cards aimed at identifying common symptoms of malaria to aid practitioners in treatment.

The Power of Visual Communication

Eddie Opara, jury captain and partner at Pentagram, the world’s largest independent design consultancy, announced the Core77 Design Awards in the visual communication category via video. He explains, “We’ve been looking for the sense of being dynamic, to a certain degree, experimental and something with a slight twist.

“It was very rare to find something simplistic and straightforward, and also that was well crafted,” Opara adds. “Within these particular notables, such as the Healthcare in Kibera, and the ongoing process work that developed there, it was actually very intriguing and very strong. That was a very good, highlighted piece.”

“Shining a bright light on efforts such as the Healthcare Communication – Kibera, Kenya, project demonstrates to a wider audience the power of visual communication and its ability to impact social change,” says AnnMarie LeBlanc, director of Kent State’s School of Visual Communication Design. “Having the work recognized in the Next Generation Competition and the Core77 2013 Design Awards is acknowledgment that the School of Visual Communication Design, its faculty and students are principal participants in the Design for Good global movement.”

Designing for Good

Relying primarily on images and with minimal text, the campaign highlights the causes and spread of malaria, its common symptoms and treatment options. It also features an array of tools – including board games – to help educate Kibera’s schoolchildren.

“For these entrants, design is no mere stylistic exercise, but an incisive and creative tool that can and must enhance the lives of those whose needs have been ignored,” says Ken Shulman in his article “Aiming High, The Runners-up: A new generation of designers takes on an ambitious set of pressing social changes,” which announced the Next Generation Competition winners.

“We tried to provide visuals that fit within their culture,” says Schwanbeck, one of the team members. “We didn’t want just another Westernized design solution.”

Earlier this year, the students presented the project to local design professionals at a collaborative event by Kent State’s School of Visual Communication Design and AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) Cleveland called Design for Good. Ahrens attended the event to share more of the work he has done in Africa. Read more about the Healthcare Communication project at www.VCDGrad.com.