Design Advocacy, ‘Maternal Health’

Public Project grew out of our experiences teaching an elective class entitled, ‘Design Advocacy’. This class invites students to use design thinking to frame challenges, seek opportunities and offer innovative solutions to social issues. Emphasis is on projects with real-world outcomes that directly impact people’s lives and are rooted in a target community.

Design Advocacy Summer 2010, was co-taught by myself and Gala Narezo. Gala, having worked as a liaison with the Design Matters program of Art Center College of Pasadena and the United Nations, was able to secure the opportunity for our students to exhibit at the 63rd Annual United Nations DPI/NGO Conference held in Melbourne, Australia, from August 30th till September 1st, 2010. Design Advocacy Summer 2010 focused on the theme of the conference ‘Global Health’ as it relates to the upcoming United Nations ‘Millennium Development Goals.’ The two health-related MDG’s are:

Goal #4: Infant Mortality
Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate.
Almost all (99%) of the 10.9 million children under five who died in 2000 were from developing countries. More than 50% of all child deaths are due to just five communicable diseases, which are preventable and can be treated: pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, malaria and HIV/AIDS.

Goal #5: Maternal Health
Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio.
According to the World Bank, over 529,000 women die annually from complications during pregnancy, childbirth, or the postpartum period.

Based on current trends, many countries are unlikely to achieve these targets by 2015. The child mortality rate is well short of the target and access to reproductive health services remains poor where women’s health risks are greatest.


For the class, we invited experts in the field to provide an understanding of the topic and its underlying causes, both at home and abroad. Students were required to research, strategize and create a meaningful solution to the problem brief—one that works across multiple mediums and makes a compelling argument to a new generation of both men and women. Given the audience for this exhibit, we decided to position our design concepts not simply as artifacts but as strategies to be employed by NGO’s.

In Strategy #1 ‘Tell a Story: Shadow Puppets in Rural India,’ Seema Krishnakumar presents the idea that NGO’s might make use of a toolkit with the necessary instructions and materials for creating simple shadow puppets. Armed with characters and story ideas, healthcare activists are given the means to facilitate discussion amongst both women and men regarding family planning, while offering entertainment to the whole community.

Students Amrithi Devarajan and Sai Hinge developed Strategy #2 ‘Aggregate & Distribute: A Shoebox Designed for Women of Childbearing Age‘. While the government and NGO’s may provide literature, supplements and condoms related to pregnancy, child birth and family planning, there is no engaging way to aggregate and distribute these products. This strategy offers a simple container, a shoebox, donated by urban residents and colorfully rebranded with simple stickers or stencils conveying important messages for their users. The ‘Nine Months‘ campaign offers three different shoeboxes/kits the contents of which are specifically designed for the different stages of childbirth: 1. prenatal care, 2. postnatal care and 3. emergency labor care. This strategy assumes partnership with a local NGO such as ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) so that the kits may be effectively introduced and distributed in the community.

Strategy #3 ‘Make Connections: A Relevancy Campaign‘ underlines the importance, and perhaps a means, of making a social cause relatable to others. Students, Carrie Madigan and Kelsey Welsch, designed a series of beautiful accordion fold booklets, posters and a MDG icon system with the goal of illustrating the connections between Millennium Development Goal #5, Maternal Health, and the seven other UN MDGs. This strategy has two potential outcomes: 1. It generates greater awareness to stakeholders invested in other global challenges; and 2. It makes evident the cost benefit of addressing maternal health, thereby increasing the possibility for funding sought by a NGO.

Other solutions include: Strategy #4 ‘Illustrate the Possibilities: Microfinance in Motion‘ by Peter Jacobson; Strategy #5 ‘Turning Joy into Action: Design Partnerships to Create Change‘ by Daniel Wiggins, and Strategy #6 ‘Hire a Designer: Charrette as a Method of Engagement‘ by Matt Scheer.

With funding from the department, we were able to send one of the students, Graduate MFA Communications Design candidate, Daniel Wiggins, to the conference along with the class exhibit. For these designers, this class offered an occasion to ground their creative process in a complex social issue and experience navigating the social sector. For the NGO leaders, health workers, politicians and activists in attendance at the exhibit, Pratt students offered some fresh ideas on how design might play a role in supporting their constituencies and communicating on issues central to their mission.

To see more images from the class, view the completed project presented at the UN Conference.