Kent State MFA Spring 2012 Studio Class
Life in Abundance
This project consists of a series of visual prototypes designed to communicate essential information about malaria treatment and prevention and safe sanitation habits. The intended audience for this project is the citizens of Kibera, Kenya. The deliverables include a Malaria information leaflet, a handout with revised dosage instructions for taking Malaria medication, and a series of cards that use basic icons to communicate the symptoms associated with contracting Malaria. In addition, multiple concepts were proposed for children’s learning activities that reinforce lessons given in school.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Home to about one million people, Kibera suffers from a host of poor infrastructure elements that worsen its conditions on a daily basis. A typical dwelling is about 12 square feet and houses eight or more people. There is no drainage system, so rainwater runoff turns into standing water, which becomes a breeding ground for mosquitos and the spread of malaria. Furthermore, the build up of trash is so extreme that in some instances it composes much of the ground on which citizens live. There are a number of stigmas that need to be overcome in Kibera concerning healthcare and sanitation. Misinformation is passed throughout communities causing a range of incorrect thinking towards the causes of sickness and proper treatments. There are also three different options for seeking healthcare: clinics, chemists and traditional healers. The general notion is that the healers are the easiest and most convenient. However, the reality is that sick individuals are often misled by healers and instead need the attention of a more qualified clinic. Existing visuals typically fail by using overly complex narratives that appear culturally out of context. Early research pointed to the extremely low literacy rate within Kibera. This informed the direct need for simplistic visuals that communicate accurate and vital information to the people of Kibera.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
These solutions are directed at making small impacts to very large problems. Early in this project it was realized that it would be impossible to solve every issue surrounding the spread of malaria. Nor was it conceivable to think that a simple visual could convince nearly 1 million people to live a cleaner more healthy life. It was necessary to narrow the focus of this project to smaller, more specific issues that simple visual solutions could have a strong impact on. The prototypes of this project target two specific groups within the slum, children and adults. Children are a key demographic because they represent the future of the population. There are opportunities to expand on the lessons they learn about health and wellness in school, and create more memorable experiences that help reinforce this information. Adults need to be educated with basic facts that disqualify rumors throughout the slum. It’s crucial that these elements come from trusted sources, and engage with their intended audience in a way that is comprehendible and appropriate. Ethnographic research brought an emic perspective to this design process. In order for these concepts to be successful, they had to be informed by the specific cultural context of Kibera. Using multiple tactics, the design team was able to inform this work with criteria that embodied the specific needs of local citizens.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
The biggest challenge of this project was learning the priorities and behaviors of a different culture. This was especially challenging because the design team was unable to experience it. A number of research tactics were conducted to help inform this unique design process. A comprehensive literature review informed the context of the environment. Information ranging from the language and religious beliefs of the area, to the inner workings of latrines and spread of Malaria were all discussed in this process. Photo ethnography was conducted to understand as much first hand ethnographic information as possible. Because traveling to Kibera was not possible for this project, this technique became the primary tactic for learning first hand information about the area. Hundreds of photographs as well as multiple videos were provided from the project partner Life in Abundance. These images and videos were analyzed and marked with tags that classified various observations such as; signs of visual literacy, evidence of certain sanitation behaviors, and conditions of local healthcare institutions. In addition, local resources such as the African studies department at Kent State, and a number of African international students were also spoken with to inform the development of these prototypes. Local doctors were contacted to verify the information being conveyed. African international students helped to validate that the visuals being used would speak to the target audience. Final prototypes were developed and sent with Life in Abundance to South Sudan and Kenya for further testing. The prototypes were shown to students in schools and to local doctors in clinics. Their feedback was recorded, and the team is currently in the process of creating a second iteration of concepts to conduct further testing. These solutions will be made and distributed for free, through the non-profit organization, Life in Abundance. Due to the harsh tropical climate and primitive infrastructure, durable coated paper will be used for any materials designed to last over time. In addition, low cost printing and inexpensive paper is essential for creating high circulation and additional credibility to these solutions.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
These concepts are designed to provide simple life-saving information. Each prototype is developed to cater to the lowest common denominator in regards to visual literacy levels. The symptom cards are simple enough for the people to understand and use to communicate with doctors when they are identifying how they feel. Preventive measures illustrated through the malaria guide reinforce tactics that can help avoid the spread of malaria. The dosage instruction card provides essential information about the proper steps for taking malaria medication. Each of these solutions are not difficult to implement, nor to they require a drastic change in infrastructure, culture, or beliefs to be effective. Citizens must be empowered with simple knowledge to help them to understand how to live healthier lives. Misconceptions will remain part of the culture. It is impossible to change everyone’s opinion towards healthcare. Certain aspects of Kibera simply do not support healthy living conditions. Despite that, these solutions can still make a difference. If they prevent even one person from making a poor decision about sanitation, or ignoring symptoms that could be the sign of a deadly disease, then these designs have done their job. Furthermore, if they begin to change the overall behaviors towards remaining healthy, then a progression of additional measures can continue to be implemented in the future.