99% Invisible

99% Invisible

By Mike Mackert

I listen to an excessive amount of podcasts, and one of my very favorites is 99% Invisible. It’s full of great stories that illustrate the importance of design in our lives. (Anyone interested in healthcare delivery should check out the episode The Blue Yarn.)

I think one of the reasons I so thoroughly enjoy 99% Invisible is my own personal journey regarding the importance of design. I always knew “design” was important, but the last decade at UT has really helped me better understand so many things about design and apply a design thinking framework to my research, teaching, and practice.

As an example, researchers in health communication can often think about the “message” in an experiment as the words in an ad. The fact that all the other elements of that ad are also communicating something – the visuals, the layout, the fonts, etc. – is often not recognized. I came to better understand this while working with a PhD advisee, Allison Lazard, who is now faculty at the University of North Carolina. Allison’s work in visual communication helped me better understand design and how a message is more than just the words in an ad. I always knew that on some level, but never had any kind of tools for thinking through and understanding all of those issues.

The importance of design was particularly heightened in the last few weeks, as the CHC was in the process of hiring a new Senior Graphic Designer for a state-funded health communication campaign. We’re thrilled about the new staff member we have joining our team, and I’m excited to see the work she will do with the CHC.

This hire seemed particularly momentous, as I know that a lot of the things we’re currently doing – grants, contracts, and partnerships of various kinds – are built on the foundation of research and projects that we did when Allison was in Austin pursuing her PhD. It’s a rare skill to weave together both the art and science that we think of as necessary for effective health communication. The chance to hire the next person who could produce that kind of work is an important moment for us. But unless you’re deeply involved in our work, you would likely never even know who that person was, their approach to design, or how they made everything else we do better through thinking about design in a creative and rigorous way.

I don’t know exactly where our new projects will take us, but I’m excited to work with a team that can weave together art and creativity with the evidence-base of health communication. It’s a challenging design problem, but the end result can be extraordinarily rewarding and powerful.