A little mental help: Action cards



I know many who have and continue to experience it on a day to day basis. Given my training and work on mental health initiatives, I’ve had people approach me to ask about recommended resources on depression (websites, trusted literature, etc.) and tools that inspire motivation and action. And generally speaking, there are some great, evidence-based self-help resources out there:

While there isn’t a shortage of accessible and reliable content, it seems that the bulk of existing resources tend to be extremely text-heavy, look and feel somewhat dated, and come across as a bit dry, drab and ‘clinical’ in nature (e.g., included images are limited to charts and surveys or photo stock images like this). This is not to criticize any particular resource, including the ones I’ve mentioned. Rather, it’s more of a commentary on what I’ve seen and would expect to receive from my own health care practitioner.

To me, managing depression is about bettering one’s own mental health with the support of trusted friends/family and professionals. At the same time, I believe that this process shouldn’t have to feel like undergoing an academic or clinical exercise. It can be daunting enough to acknowledge the need for change, to seek out supports and embark on a treatment plan. Doing so within a clinical context while supporting yourself with dense and somewhat sterile resources probably doesn’t help minimize the overwhelming and uncomfortable feelings that can arise. Perhaps this is a common experience among those who go through the medical system to ‘fix a health problem’, but I think that addressing a mental health issue also comes with unique layers of stigma, challenge and complexity.

I have found few tools that are visual, colorful or feel friendly and personalized to my interests. While it’s actually quite exciting to see soft/hardware being developed that can help track mood and behaviour and enable us to interact with mental health issues in new ways, I think that the existing ‘old-school’ resources out there deserve a re-vamp too — in reality, these are the resources that the majority of care professionals continue to use and recommend in practice.

I decided to make some ‘action cards’ that suggest tangible steps one can take to help overcome depressive feelings. These cards are informed by cognitive behavioural therapy approaches to treatment and aim to be quick, ‘on-the-go’ actions that someone can print out, shuffle through, and carry around. They were also designed for someone familiar with CBT concepts and would probably play a more supportive role to someone undergoing treatment. These were created with a personal intent but are shared here if they (or the idea of them) can be helpful to someone else. Inspired by my own deep dive into the world of animation and cartooning, I decided to create a character who would accompany the cards and (hopefully) can appeal to a general audience. My hope was to create something more playful, personable, less ‘institutional’ feeling, and appealing to adults.

At the top, you can see ‘side 1’ of the cards with the “problem” being faced. ‘Side 2’ below offers a practical action response. I welcome your feedback and ideas on how to improve these cards.



Health Promotion in Canada, A History


Earlier this year, I decided to create a graphic in order to map out the history of Health Promotion in Canada — key milestones and movements from the 1970s onward. In many ways, this is a response to the lack of visuals and timelines I’ve found documenting health promotion activities. For a country that is internationally recognized for its leadership in this space, it surprises me that I haven’t found too many sharable graphics on this.

Here’s the full PDF draft: HP History_DRAFT3_AYIP

The timeline is unfinished and still in progress. Nonetheless, it serves as a starting point for documenting key moments for the health promotion movement in Canada. I realize that not everyone will agree with the relative importance of events in the timeline and that there are certain pieces that are missing (and only goes up to 2010), but I welcome your feedback. Please comment below with suggestions on what needs to change, stay or be added.

Below, you can find some of the references I used to populate the timeline. Many thanks to Dr. Suzanne Jackson for sharing her health promotion resources with me so this document could be created!


Health promotion in Canada: 1986 to 2006 by Suzanne F Jackson and Barbara L Riley

Health promotion in Canada – a case study by Health Canada

The Final 3: EMR, Ageing & Community Building

Electronic medical records:

Ageing/Chronic condition:

Community Building:


So I’ve learned that I can get the icons done, but the posting has been slightly delayed. Anyways, I hope you enjoy the final 3 icons. Feedback and thoughts always welcome. This has been a fun exercise and I hope to do it again in the near future 🙂 Just need to be a bit better about my posting schedule!

Google Doodles: A Lesson in Type

Assignment 2 for my typography class: Create a Google Doodle.

In order to explore and experiment with type, I’ve created a few Google Doodles for class that I thought I’d share here, just for fun. There’s a whole archive of Google Doodles here for inspiration, but my goal was to come up with my own Doodle that would commemorate or recognize someone or something of meaning to me.

Lots of ideas came to mind (many of which cannot be pursued because of time constraints):

I thought back to my childhood: Jem, Care Bears (old school), Polka Dot Door, the City of Calgary, Where’s Waldo?, Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood, Picture Pages …Can you tell I’m an 80’s kid!?

I thought about things close to me in the present: Lady Gaga, Degrassi, Learning American Sign Language (ASL), Design Thinking

My Toronto life: TTC (the subway), Rob Ford

And some artful inspiration: Banksy, Group of Seven, Salvador Dali, David Hockney

The winners were Banksy, Where’s Waldo? and ASL as you can see here, above and below. I had fun with the types here, particularly maintaining the spray paint aesthetic for Banksy’s doodle and drawing the hands for the ASL doodle – simple but works. And giving credit where credit is due: Here is Banksy’s piece (original here). I traced an image of Waldo for the Waldo Doodle.

Crit is tomorrow…wish me luck!

And, Enjoy!

The Art of Type

“Learn the rules first, then break them”

Those are some wise words from my typography prof at OCAD U.

I’m three weeks into my intro to typography course and so far I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m learning a lot and I am developing a much deeper appreciation for the communicative power of type. My understanding of type is a design system that has been created and developed over the span of years, decades and millenia for the purposes of conveying meaning and messages in some sort of organized manner. Type is also something I’ve always taken for granted having grown up with word processing programs and having the luxury of selecting from a vast list of typefaces at the single click of a mouse, from the Swiss-born “Helvetica” to the corporate standard, “Times New Roman”, to the seemingly nonsensical “Wingdings”.

On day one of class, we began learning about the contrasts of type. In no particular order (and extremely simplified here) are seven contrasts we learned about:

1. Size – Scale of type

2. Weight – Thickness of the letter forms

3. Form – Caps/lower case/italics

4. Structure – Typefaces (e.g., Helvetica, Arial, Futura)

5. Colour – Color of the type

6. Direction – Orientation of the type

7. Texture – Leading and spacing

For my first class assignment, my job was to demonstrate one of each of these rules, while keeping everything else constant. This was a much harder task for my classmates and I to complete because of our natural inclinations to creatively play with several elements at once. However, as I quoted my prof above, we were reminded to learn the rules first in order to break them. As a result, this assignment turned out to be a real test in using type alone to convey emotion and meaning.

And so, I practiced and came up with my final seven examples (above) using one of the more versatile typefaces, Helvetica. After a couple of class critiques, I hope the contrast behind each example is quite clear. The order goes: Color, texture, direction, size, weight, form & structure. The quote is from Col. Stefan J. Banach, a man who has brought design thinking to military strategy.

From this assignment though, one thing I have been reflecting on is the notion of “rules” in typography.

Having rules doesn’t necessarily seem to imply there is a “right or wrong” way of doing things, but more that there are principles behind the practice of design that have “worked” over centuries and are instructive to theory and practice. And importantly, these are rules that can be broken, and always are.

In health promotion, we don’t have “rules” per se…there are some guiding and unifying principles, but to me, it’s not as standard or clear. I would describe the rules of type I’ve learned about as “modifiers”, if you will — they are ways to shape the very essence of the design you’re working with through its literal and figurative meaning in order to better communicate with an audience. I found these rules rather instructive and thought about how these elements could be applied to the work I do as a community health promoter. My thinking: Perhaps there are elements which help create a unique aesthetic for each and every health promotion initiative we plan, create, and carry out. Here’s one way of looking at it (and for the purposes of this example, I use “program” to describe a general “design program” we may create for health promotion — an intervention, strategy, process, policy, engagement, etc.):

1. Size – The scale and reach of the program

2. Weight – The impact of the programming on participants and the greater community

3. Form – The activities that comprise the contents of the program

4. Structure – The type of program it is, be it an outreach program, educational workshops, etc.

5. Colour – The visibility of and levels of diversity represented in the program

6. Direction – The anticipated process and outcomes of the program, and the values and beliefs guiding it

7. Texture – The feel and visceral experience of the program as experienced by all involved and affected by the program

When framed this way, I actually find these design principles to be quite a helpful way of communicating a health promotion aesthetic that may not always be immediately visible or understandable in the work we do. In designing future health promotion initiatives, I will have to track my process and see if these principles fit or if there are any others to add to the mix…A good design challenge for myself moving forward.

And before I end off this post, I just wanted to include this gem that my prof showed us at the end of our first class to remind us not to take our typefaces too seriously: A video from College Humor called Type Conference

The Design Portfolio

I remember back to my days in high school when I was taking art classes: I loved (and still love) sketching, photography, painting, sculpting, and having the creative freedom to blend these different approaches together. I was lucky to have a pretty amazing art teacher back then (Thanks, Mr. Harsha) who encouraged us to take risks and experiment with our work.

I was quite proud of the pieces I created for art class and began building up my own collection of personal works. I kept my pieces safely stowed away in a decorated cardboard folder labeled “ANDREA  YIP” that was covered with random doodles and sketches. I could always go back to my portfolio to pull out my past and present projects to provide my teachers and peers with a sense of what I had been visually creating in class.  To me, the only way to fully describe my work to others was to show people my portfolio. The contents of my portfolio and the even the simple act of carrying it around made for a great conversation starter. What I loved most though, is that every time I went back to my portfolio, I would pull out my work and begin studying its visual contents and be reminded of the process of creating it, the fine details of the work, and the time and creative energy that went into its creation. I think this helped me learn more from and develop a deeper appreciation for my work over time.

As an academic, I suppose my equivalent of the “portfolio” would be the curriculum vitae. Typically, CVs aren’t heavy in visual content (nor do I think a highly visual CV would be fully appreciated within academia). Rather, the CV is filled with lists of text that describe my roles, responsibilities and achievements, in just a few words:

Social media coordinator, 2010. Youth Voices Research Group” …or…

Research Assistant, 2009. Planned Parenthood Toronto“. Period.

Not all CVs are created equally, but generally, the CV is good for conveying a particular set of professional achievements for a particular audience. I don’t suspect that many academics carry around copies of their powerpoint slide decks or journal articles to share with a potential employer, colleagues, or clients, but it would seem reasonable that if someone asked for samples from your body of work, that you could deliver this on demand. And hopefully, whatever you deliver would ideally be something that captures one’s attention, is engaging and refreshing, is readable by the general population (in plain language), and maybe even something that someone else might find inspiring.

As I move into a more designful career, my interest is in integrating communication and graphic design more fully into my work. To this end, I think that academics could really benefit from the idea of the portfolio. As a social designer, I think the concept of a portfolio fits in nicely with the way I want to convey myself to others and gives my partners, clients, and colleagues with a richer sense of how I approach and even conceptualize my own work, formally and informally. To me, the portfolio offers such a rich opportunity to “sell” your work, share your personality, and build a brand identity. This is not something that academics are necessarily taught to do well, if at all.

That said, I decided to try a little experiment: Start creating my own design portfolio.

My first addition to the portfolio is a short document about a research initiative I coordinated in 2010 called The Access Project. My goal was to create something short (about 2-3 pages), succinct, in plain language, visual, and beautiful, and something that I could pull out of my portfolio and hand to a client, community member, boss, friend, family member, magazine editor, funder, or peer. I’m not sure if I succeeded in all these areas, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Overall, I think the document gives someone a general overview of the project, particularly with regard to purpose, need, process and outcomes. I was worried about losing too much context as I pared down the information, but I also wanted to ensure I was providing enough detail (more than an abstract). So as it stands, it may be a bit wordy, but I think it’s a good start. This was a fun challenge for me as I was forced to think of ways to visualize the Access Project (process, outcomes, etc.) using images that were simple enough to understand, but at the same time, able to capture some of the complexity inherent within the project.

The image you see above is the third page of the document (this includes the main visual). I have included the full document — all four pages — in the gallery below.

My hope is to build up a design portfolio over time….so I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

And as an FYI, this particular document took me about 5-6 hours to create. It’s still pretty rough, but it goes to show that it may not take a really long time to develop valuable knowledge translations products for your own design portfolio.


InDesign Notes: The photographs used on page 1 of the Access Project document are visual captures from the media created by the youth participants from the project.

The Re-Imagined Journal Article

As the old saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”.

But it’s inevitable, we do! Good book design goes a long way…it can catch the eye of a curious consumer, serve as a point of discussion or intrigue, stimulate the senses (through touch, visuals, etc.), may ultimately drive sales, and says a lot about the personality of that book and it’s author(s).

Throughout my academic career, I’ve had the opportunity to sift through hundreds of journals and journal articles, particularly in conducting public health systematic reviews. Being a health promoter and researcher, I’ve found myself reading lengthy articles discussing important but (what I consider to be) heavy topics such as social theory and abstract concepts such as empowerment. I tend to have a greater affinity for the biological sciences rather than the social sciences because of my training and the way my mind works, so sometimes this type of reading can be a bit draining albeit stimulating. I think what can contribute to this sense of fatigue may be in part the article’s content, but also the design of the articles themselves. Generally, articles tend to follow the same formula after a while, which can become somewhat repetitious: They lack images (less accommodating to those who best learn from mediums other than text), consist of dense black and white text, and organize the title, abstract, body, and references into standardized sections and columns.

No doubt, there are publishing constraints that make these standard layouts necessary but I wonder what would happen if we (as researchers) had the creative freedom to play with these designs a bit more? While the dominant designs/layouts for journal articles are probably very thoughtfully designed and are important to have for time, efficiency, space, and consistency, I know my senses could benefit from a little more colour, visuals, diversity and vibrancy every now and then.

So with this in mind, I decided to test out some alternative layouts for a journal article that I was a co-author on, “Designing health innovation networks using complexity science and systems thinking: the CoNEKTR model“. I actually do think that the layout of the article is quite elegant in itself, but I wanted to play around with it just for fun and re-imagine it in different ways. The designs I came up with may not be particularly ‘beautiful’ per se, but I just wanted to have fun and see how this might change the way I perceive the article.

The first is the image at the top of this post. This is what I call the movie-poster inspired article layout. In fact, I stumbled upon the poster for the movie Vantage Point (which I have never actually seen) and decided to try this out. Makes a good cover page perhaps? Designing this and the other layouts made me realize how much content is typically included in just the first page of an article! It was a challenge to include it all so I minimized text in all cases.

The next image is below. Thanks to this post I learned how to create transparent text. The background image is a bit fuzzy (my fault) but I wanted to give this version a very clean and earthy look. The original photo can be found on Flickr.

The image below is a bit louder but I have managed to include the full abstract of the article. Thanks to this tip I learned how to create the black highlight for the text.

Finally, there is this layout I came up with. It was originally black and white and then I got bored and added colour. This one was fun to make because I played with a lot of the fonts. Maybe not fully readable or attractive but it’s nice to change it up every now and then.

And last but not least, you can check out a screenshot of the original paper to see what the layout looks like. Like I said before, I actually think it’s quite beautiful and organized nicely. I should also mention that the paper is a pretty fantastic read and I highly recommend it if you’re wondering how design can blend into health promotion practice and participatory engagement 🙂