A wall mural of cartoon forest animals in BC Children's Hospital.

I’ve cried as a graphic designer.

I haven’t cried because my job is stressful and occasionally overwhelming, I have cried because what I was designing contained difficult subject matter that meant a great deal to the client and audience. When you’re focused on keeping the audience in mind for hours on end, sometimes the dam bursts.

I was recently asked to create a mural for a bath unit in BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Care Suite at BC Children’s Hospital, Vancouver. It can be a traumatic experience for a patient and I was asked to create murals for a series of rooms a patient would go through.

On the surface, it sounds like a fun project. I get to create some murals with joyful images to help a young patient through the bathing experience in a burn ward. But then you really think about what that patient is going through. Why they’re there. What’s going through their head during the experience? Suddenly the project became very serious.

I asked a lot of questions. Empathy is important for any design project, but this was incredibly important. I learned about the process each patient goes through. The various states they’re in when they go through the bathing process, and the need to revise concepts when new information comes to light.

A bear with a wheelbarrow full of fruit? Nope. Some patients are fasting before going in. Reminders of food is not a good thing.

A night scene with lanterns? Nope. Lanterns. Fire. A campfire never made it onto paper, but the lanterns had to become flashlights.

At times I was so focused on the experience, trying to put myself in the experience that I would occasionally have to stop, wipe my eyes, and walk away for a bit to come back and continue working on the murals.

But the murals slowly came together. A human-centered design process took into account the state of mind of a patient and the murals grew around that. It was an emotionally difficult project to work on, but I’m very proud of it. It’s being installed right now (it is a digital design printed on adhesive material) and I look forward to seeing the full project up and installed.

I hope not many patients have to see it, but for those who do, I hope my murals make them smile during their difficult times. If they’re able to find enjoyment in my work, a distraction from the task at hand, that little bit of positivity can help aid the healing process.

In need of a graphic designer who not only makes great looking designs but ones where the research is done to ensure the designs work for the customer experience? Drop me a line!