‘Public Health Iconathon’ at Insight2



If you look through my most recent posts on this blog, you’ll notice a recent explosion of public health related icons I created back in October during my self-hosted Iconathon.

A summary piece of the Iconathon (above) will be featured at Insight 2: Engaging the Health Humanities at the University of Alberta in May. I mention this because not only am I delighted to take part, Insight 2 is one of the few exhibits that I know of that is exploring the intersections of design, art and health promotion. Moreover, Insight 2 is based in Alberta and, generally, I find that the conversation around design+art+health is limited here in Canada. Here is a quick blurb from their website about the aims of this project:

InSight 2 explores how we can engage the health humanities to help us work collaboratively across disciplines 
and communities, to imagine and design innovative and transformative processes, communications, products, environments, services and experiences that can help to promote our health and well-being.

Based on this description and my goals with the Iconathon, I thought it would be an appropriate addition to the exhibit. Here’s my explanation of how it aligns with this greater mandate:

“Public Health Iconathon” is a visual summary of an ‘icon marathon’ completed in October 2012 in response to the lack of recognizable, universal and usable imagery conveying complex public health concepts. Over a one-month period, twenty-five public health concepts were iconized, with personal Twitter followers and peers of the illustrator involved in helping brainstorm terms to visualize. Icons were created in less than one hour in order to encourage rapid ideation, iteration and prototyping.

The iconathon represents a type of visual design ‘jam’ or ‘charrette’ that I believe is important to incorporate into public health practice. Through ongoing and creative collaboration and a participatory co-design process, we can create new visual imagery in order to expand the public’s understanding of health and wellbeing, and improve health literacy, signage, and wayfinding. The ultimate goal is to create a more robust visual vocabulary for health.

Anyhow, if you’re in Edmonton AB in May, I think this showcase will be a great opportunity to see how practitioners, healthcare users, artists and designers are promoting health through creative and less conventional means. I look forward to seeing the other submissions!

Shadow Puppets

What does the creative process look like?

I recently came across this infographic by Virus Comix posted on FastCompany that illustrates the “Magic and Madness of the Creative Process”. I can certainly relate to those winding roads: the doubt, the re-work, the split decisions…and the stress, for better or for worse. This, in combination with some reading from Nigel Cross’s “Design Thinking” the other day, got me thinking about the creative process in a slightly new way…at least visually.

In the book there’s a great quote from Cross’s profile of designer Kenneth Grange, co-founder of Pentagram, wherein Grange describes the role of the designer:

The designer’s job, he says, is ‘to produce the unexpected’. (p.70)

I have heard variants of this job description from other designers and agree with this statement in many ways, granted that the unexpected is addressing a need, helping a situation or circumstance, and delighting its user(s). This unexpectedness, I find, is also present within the design process.

Many designers (Cross included) describe the creative process as ambiguous, unclear, unpredictable and difficult to map out. So much time is spent searching for the “right” problems to address and then creating ways to meaningfully address them. And while one can expect the design process to be extremely foggy — even translucent and almost opaque at times — you grab your tools, methods, knowledge and experience and you begin to feel your way through the process.  You may be unsure of what you’re searching for in the first place, but you do end up reaching your final destination. In essence, you’ve created something through the shadows: It may be unexpected, but it’s probably quite remarkable.

Taking what I’ve said here, the illustration above is my attempt to visualize the design process. Through this interpretation, I think that I have inadvertently simplified a process I consider to be truly complex. The visual is more articulate than any words I can offer, so I hope you find some meaning in it.

I’m curious about visual analogies (I’m thinking infographics/illustrations less frameworks/flow charts) for the design process and invite you to share any you might have.