School of Visual Communication Design Graduate Students Rank in the Top Six in National Design Competition

Students in the Master of Fine Arts program in the School of Visual Communication Design (VCD) at Kent State University earned Student Notable Honoree status, placing them in the top six of all national entries, in the Core77 2013 Design Awards for their Healthcare Visuals Kibera project. This is the second award the team has earned this month, with Metropolis Magazine naming it runner-up in its Next Generation Design Competition.

Graduate students Penina Acayo, Brito Diego, Adina Feigenbaum, Jason Goupil, Ian McCullough and Andrew Schwanbeck developed the project under direction of VCD Associate Professor Ken Visocky O’Grady in the Graduate Studio Course.

Visocky O’Grady connected the students to Justin Ahrens of Rule29, and Life in Abundance, an African-led nonprofit that helps to train, equip and empower local churches to serve the poor. The students spent a semester researching healthcare, literacy and malaria in Kibera, a slum outside Narobi, Kenya. The team developed, tested and refined a set of cards aimed at identifying common symptoms of malaria, to aid practitioners in treatment.

Jury captain and partner at Pentagram, the world’s largest independent design consultancy, Eddie Opara announced the Core77 Design Awards in the visual communication category via video. He explained, “We’ve been looking for the sense of being dynamic, to a certain degree, experimental, and something with a slight twist.”

“It was very rare to find something simplistic and straightforward, and also that was well crafted,” Opara said. “Within these particular notables, such as the Healthcare in Kibera, and the ongoing process work that developed there, it was actually very intriguing and very strong,” he added. “That was a very good, highlighted piece.”

“Shining a bright light on efforts such as the Healthcare Communication – Kibera, Kenya project demonstrates to a wider audience the power of visual communication and its ability to impact social change,” said VCD Director AnnMarie LeBlanc. “Having the work recognized in the Next Generation Competition and the Core77 2013 Design Awards is acknowledgment that the School of Visual Communication Design, its faculty and students are principal participants in the Design for Good global movement.”

Relying primarily on images and with minimal text, the campaign highlights the causes and spread of malaria, its common symptoms and treatment options. It also features an array of tools—including board games—to help educate Kibera’s schoolchildren.

“For these entrants, design is no mere stylistic exercise, but an incisive and creative tool that can and must enhance the lives of those whose needs have been ignored,” said Ken Shulman in his article “Aiming High, The Runners-up: A new generation of designers takes on an ambitious set of pressing social changes,” which announced the Next Generation Competition winners.

“We tried to provide visuals that fit within their culture,” said Andrew Schwanbeck, 2013 MFA alumnus. “We didn’t want just another Westernized design solution.”

Earlier this year, the students presented the project to local design professionals at a collaborative event by VCD and AIGA Cleveland called Design for Good. Ahrens attended the event to share more of the work he’s done in Africa. Read more about the Healthcare Communication project at


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