• Project-Based Studio, Center for Social Design, Maryland Institute College of Art
  • Baltimore City Health Department



I engaged the whole process of research as a part of the team. My responsibilities include conducting interviews, facilitating workshops, and generating interactive prototypes.


We invited BCHD, cisgender women living with HIV & AIDS, and other stakeholders to research share back. This event was also an opportunity for stakeholders to get together and have discussions on the given topic. The presentation includes quotes and insights that we discovered through the process organized by themes as well as various prototypes such as interactive boards, insight cards, and church pop-ups.

Project Background

The Baltimore metropolitan statistical area (MSA) had the tenth highest estimated adult/adolescent HIV diagnosis rate of any major metropolitan area. In 2014, in Maryland, among individuals newly identified as being HIV-positive and with reported exposure, the greatest proportion of cases is Black men who have sex with men (MSM) (36.9%). While Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) has successfully implemented many initiatives focused on the Black MSM population, there are many other affected populations to consider.

I joined Maryland Institute College of Art’s Center for Social Design to tackle this challenge in collaboration with BCHD. We facilitated an interdisciplinary Practice-Based Studio intended to foster creative, innovative, and breakthrough design solutions to help BCHD better understand the perspectives of people living with HIV/AIDS in Baltimore.

This work focuses specifically on stigma related to HIV/AIDS and trust related to the healthcare environment in Baltimore City and seeks to engage often overlooked audiences such as youth, women, older adults, etc.

Design Challenge

How might we identify opportunities for
building relationships between BCHD and
cisgender women living with HIV & AIDS in Baltimore?

“identify opportunities”

Recognize challenges
Make positive changes
Empathize with people

“building relationships”

Improving communication
Building trust
Understanding the whole person
Sharing stories
Looking for fellowships
Creating a safe place


Local government organisations
Accessible medical care resources
Progressive healthcare workers

“cisgender women living with HIV & AIDS”

Older adults
Women in church
Women being pregnant or with children
Underrepresented audience


Engagement with local residents
Designing with the audience
Understanding the context of Baltimore

Design Principles

Look to Many

Be inclusive. Then be more inclusive. Strike a balance between speaking to specific audiences and a crafting a universal message. Move beyond historic focuses (such as the MSM community) and seek out new voices.

Meet People Where They Are

Strive to come to people where they feel comfortable physically, mentally and emotionally. Focus on creating and meeting in safe spaces. This could mean physically meeting them in a space they feel at home, or demonstrating respect for their beliefs.

Build Trust & Speak with Empathy

Demonstrate understanding and respect through
language and word choice. Openness,
humility and a willingness to listen should be
broadcasted with every interaction.

Consider the Whole Person

No one is their disease. HIV status is only one aspect of lives rich in complexity, with unique challenges and victories

Stories Have Value

Bridge facts and human experiences.
Quantitative data is an invaluable part of research, but it is human stories that build empathy between people and move understanding

Recognize History

Respect the work that’s already been done in HIV and healthcare more broadly. Recognize also that that work could represent both positive progress, as well as injustice.

Research Methods

Participate in events with cisgender women living with HIV & AIDS

Facilitate workshop with cisgender women living with HIV & AIDS

Interview BCHD, cisgender women living with HIV & AIDS, and other stakeholders

Quotes and Insights

Fighting Stigma

What we heard

“We don’t think about HIV and drug addiction like diabetes.”

“Most people only know the early days of HIV and they carry that knowledge until today.”

“The major part of stigma is ignorance.”

“HIV becomes more real when people meet people living with HIV.”

“Treat people as family. Conversation is important within family.”

Why it matters

Because many people are still ignorant of HIV facts, conversations can help normalize HIV.

Building Trust

What we heard

“Stories are data with empathy.”

“When you relate to people, they will tell their stories. BCHD has not done this yet.”

““BCHD is in their own bubble.”

“Can I just see you more often in my community so that I know you are genuine with your care.”

Why it matters

While BCHD is doing a great deal of fieldwork, there’s still a perception that this work is not engaged with the community.

Having Relationships

What we heard

“Let’s get tested before starting an intimate relationship!”

“There is a fear of violence when you disclose your status.”

Why it matters

For women living with HIV, navigating relationships completely changes with diagnosis.

Being Intimate & Getting Older

What we heard

“They don’t believe older people engage in intimate behaviors. No one wants to believe that their grandmas are still having sex.”

“Your grandma may not be knitting on her rocking chair.”

“BCHD shows gray hair and people with canes when talking about older women living with HIV & AIDS.”

“OWEL has a new outlook for the survivors. The ladies at OWEL are bold, happy and vibrant.”

Why it matters

Older women are being overlooked because they’re being stereotyped.

Activism as Empowerment

What we heard

“We are activists.”

“This is a social justice issue.”

“I have lived before, now I have a purpose. There are things I need to do.”

“Get educated and help others get educated.”

Why it matters

Becoming an activist is an important way many women find power in their diagnosis.

Finding Resources

What we heard

“There are many other issues people need to worry about. It is hard to find safe & affordable housing, and there are also mobility/transportation issues for us.”

“Women are marginalized—their biggest barriers are education and sexual health.”

“Everyone should meet a mental health advisor.”

“Stigma is an everyday fight.”

“People need coping mechanisms.”

Why it matters

To support someone’s HIV & AIDS treatment as a patient, you need to support their survival as a whole person.

Treating HIV isn’t just about treating HIV.


What we heard

“People think BCHD treats them like members of a group, not individuals.”

“How can black gay men and black women work together?”

“BCHD’s efforts to reaching out to the community should be about ‘living together’ rather than ‘targeting.’”

“It’s not about sexual orientation, it’s about community.”

Why it matters

Funding may exist in silos, but people don’t.

Creating Visibility

What we heard

“We don’t talk about HIV & AIDS in Baltimore.”

“I saw lots of red ribbons and billboards in San Francisco, San Diego, and New York.”

“We need to put HIV in the spotlight. Put on more ads and videos, bring it out of the closet and show it’s preventable.”

“Starbucks does so much in Africa… HIV is here in Baltimore!”

Why it matters

In other major cities, HIV is on public display, but in Baltimore, HIV is not.


Church Pop-Up

We imagine an event centered around a local community church that activates the surrounding businesses. In this way, a mixed-use space people are used to spending time in is transformed into a place for education and community outreach.

Insight Cards

This library of cards presents our research insights in a fun and engaging format, inviting users to explore the information in a non-linear way at their own pace. Each card is the size of a standard business card, encouraging users to take one with them, and allowing them to be included in folder card slots.

Help Cards

This support card activity aims to help people who need different support from communities and
organizations, such as challenges with mental health or finanical situations. We’d like to convey that
everyone needs support so that it is not shameful to ask for help.

Interactive Board

This board provides opportunities for people to interact in a casual setting and to see each other as a whole person. The positive question highlights the beauty of individuals while the map connects neighbors.

Social Coffee Cups

This concept makes use of interactive coffee cups which prompt the user to answer a question about how they are feeling or something they love. The activity is meant to be an icebreaker in meetings and social contexts, encouraging people to find common ground for conversation. This could integrate with existing campaigns by organizations like Hope Springs.

Ad Campaign

This ad campaign imagines various women who might be living with HIV, but are living rich and vibrant lives thanks to treatment and care.