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 organisation, 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 Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) and the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH). MoPH approached VCUarts Qatar with a specific need – to use visual communication to help disseminate the core message of health promotion and illness prevention among the residents of Qatar drawn from over 90 nationalities.

Assistant professors Peter Martin (Graphic Design) and Byrad Yyelland (Liberal Arts and Sciences) held initial discussions with MoPH and incorporated the initiative into a multiversity course titled, Innovation for Well-Being, which they co-teach.

Martin explained that the success of the MoPH’s work depends on the active and responsive participation of the public. 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, he said that 12 students from Hamad Bin Khalifa University and VCUarts Qatar collaborated in identifying significant circumstances, attitudes, behaviours, relationships within daily living in Qatar.

MoPH VCUarts Qatar collaboration

These students, who were part of the interdisciplinary course developed and facilitated by Martin and Byrad, organised themselves into four teams. They investigated the 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 augmented when Astrid Kensinger joined VCUarts Qatar as Chair of Graphic Design. Two graphic design alumni Catherine Fe Chiuco and Haneen Alsharif were invited to mentor and co-lead alongside the faculty members. Margarita Zuniga, the University’s Community Relations Coordinator, helped arrange efforts between VCUarts Qatar and MoPH.

Two Class of 2021 graphic design students, Aisha Al-Abdallah and Azza Alawad, then presented their respective pitches to MoPH Director Sheikh Mohammad Bin Hamad Al Thani, VCUarts Qatar Dean Amir Berbic and Strategic Engagement Director Lejla Niksic. The collaboration led to an internship at MoPH for Alawad and for another graphic design senior, Cut Izza Alyssa.

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.

Alawad said the field trips gave them the 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 behaviour and change in the real world.

Alawad added that the experience taught them so much. During their time at the ministry, they were given the freedom to organise tasks, stretch their minds, make decisions, and create their 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 to such initiatives.

VCUarts Qatar is a partner university of Qatar Foundation. For more information, visit their website at

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