The pandemic has revealed how the applications of arts and design go beyond the traditional and the popular. Designers are currently called upon to assist various industries in areas beyond the expected – designing logos, branding, and creating aesthetically pleasing corporate gifts or interiors – to offer solutions that enhance mass communication, strategy, internal organization, user experience, and public engagement, through the lens of design thinking.
A prime example of this widening scope is a collaboration that took place recently between VCUarts Qatar and Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health (MoPH). It started with MoPH approaching the university with a specific need – to use visual communication to help disseminate the core message of health promotion and illness prevention to the residents of Qatar drawn from over 90 nationalities.
Peter Martin, Assistant Professor, Graphic Design, and Byrad Yyelland, Assistant Professor, Liberal Arts and Sciences, held initial discussions with MoPH, and incorporated the initiative into a multiversity course titled ‘Innovation for Wellbeing’ which they co-teach, along with other contributors from Education City. Martin explained the origins of the project.
“The success of the Ministry of Public Health’s (MoPH) work depends on the active and responsive participation of the public,” he said. “This makes it essential to have an identity built around a narrative that is coherent, relevant, and accessible to the diverse individuals and communities in Qatar. To begin revealing the elements and scope of a potential narrative, 12 students from Hamad Bin Khalifa University and VCUarts Qatar collaborated in identifying significant circumstances, attitudes, behaviors, relationships within daily living in Qatar.
“These students, who were part of the interdisciplinary course developed and facilitated by myself and Byrad, organized themselves into four teams. They investigated daily living patterns of various citizen and resident profiles. Using a variety of disciplinary lenses their findings were designed into “situation” mappings that revealed interrelationships and structures of challenges, achievements, and opportunities relevant to areas of public health. These situations were then collated into two potential narratives for the branding and identity of public health in Qatar, which were then used by the Graphic Design visual identity concept development workshop.”
The collaborative efforts were further amplified when Astrid Kensinger joined VCUarts Qatar as Chair, Graphic Design. Two graphic design alumni Catherine Fe Chiuco and Haneen Alsharif were invited to mentor and co-lead alongside faculty members.
Two Class of 2021 graphic design students, Aisha Al-Abdallah and Azza Alawad, then presented their respective pitch to the Director of MoPH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Hamad Al Thani, as well as VCUarts Qatar’s Dean Amir Berbic, and Director of Strategic Engagement, Lejla Niksic. The collaboration led to Alawad, along with another graphic design senior Cut Izza Alyssa, being offered an internship at MoPH’s headquarters.
“There is more to design than branding and aesthetically pleasing visuals; there are design-thinking and strategizing elements as well,” Alyssa said.
“For instance, during the internship, we did a considerable amount of research to understand cultural habits prevalent in Qatar; we applied our critical thinking skills to develop varied approaches in disseminating information about COVID-19 precautions, to a multinational population. It was an incredible opportunity to apply what we'd learned in our classes in real-life settings - and to get a ring-side view of the considerable effort that goes into safeguarding the health of a population.”
During the internship, both Alawad and Alyssa benefitted from the departmental rotations and field trips that gave them an understanding of the complexity of modern health care, and how best to use design to build awareness and convey specific messages.
“Our field trips gave us a chance to talk to teams conducting COVID-19 research, and gain insight into the systematic thinking required to be able to communicate effectively; we saw, from a different perspective, how design influences human behavior and change in the real world,” Alawad said.
"The experience taught us so much. During our time at the ministry, we were given a certain extent of freedom to organize our tasks, stretch our minds, make decisions, and create our own outcomes. Going forward, we’ve decided to expand and share our experiences; to cultivate a community of young designers and advocates who are passionate about social change and can actively contribute in such initiatives.”
Video by Nic van der Bijl.