Student Case Study: Safety Problem Solved Using Integrated Design Approach

Student designers from the University of Alberta explore systems approaches to design

Most designers are usually approached (by clients in the public or private sector) to execute pre-determined design solutions to a pre-determined problem(s). Designers are often given a brief, with identified solutions, sometimes right down to the printing specifications of the design outcome. Designers are sought-out mainly to produce graphics, devices, systems and spaces, and because of that, they rarely consider the social impact of their design contributions or the ways in which design can improve health and well-being. So many times designers forget that a well-studied design may prevent disaster, and even save lives.

Project brief

The students were part of the Systems and Concepts class in the Bachelor of Design program in the Department of Art and Design, at University of Alberta. In this course, students explore systems approaches to design. The course also nurtures concept development, critical thinking, typography and information design skills.

The project brief began with an introduction to the way people think, act and behave in an emergency situation. Students were asked to choose a target audience and design a blizzard kit, which contains the basic needs of two people for 24 hours.

Students had to explore packaging and information design solutions that are effective within the context of a blizzard situation. The kit included a basic first aid kit, water, an ice scraper, booster cables, a shovel, reflective vest, matches, and an emergency blanket. It was also required that they designed a bilingual (French and English) List of Contents. The brief highlighted that the design outcome be light in weight, and compact. Many of the discussions before the project began, encompassed how to design for people in low lighting conditions, and also people in stressful and panic situations, when there is no time for sustained reading. Discussions highlighted that for a procedure to be carried out properly in a life-threatening situation, procedural instructions must follow the “say what you need to say and then stop” rule, because people in an emergency have little time to read. Eventually, methods were discussed and prototypes were made.

The projects that were the most successful were the ones that were the most direct, simple and considered the ways in which the package would be read, understood, and used in situation. Some examples are shown in this article.

This project taught the conceptualizing of 3D space, the design of procedural instructions, advanced typography, the conceptualizing of space and system design, and prototyping.


Gillian Harvey CGD, MA (UK) is an Information Design instructor at the Department of Art and Design, U of A. A project-based art director, her core capabilities include clear language, data visualization, standards and procedural information, way finding and typography.