Research Output

Learning from the locals: how can co-design support malaria education in a post-colonial environment?

  The focus of this practice based research project is the promoting of malaria awareness and preventative education in an area of Africa where the disease is endemic despite large interventions from NGOs. This study examines the co-design method and how it responded to the challenges of a post-colonial environment to deliver a method of communication that was valid and participatory.

Inspired by a humanist and socially conscious perspective that was originally set out by Ken Garland’s ‘First Things First Manifesto’ in 1964, the project is placed within a framework for ethical practice in graphic design, and the subsequent emergence of design for social good based on the lived experiences and knowledge of the participants.
In remote coastal towns in Northern Mozambique, new mosquito nets, impregnated with toxic DEET are used as fishing nets. The local hospital carries out free malaria testing and gives treatment to all who test positive, but many people with symptoms don’t go there, preferring to visit a traditional healer who cannot cure them. By the time they get to a doctor, the disease count in their body has doubled and may be fatal.
Taking the time to consider your health is not the first priority when most of your day is spent collecting the basics for survival, and ingrained cultural behaviours and norms dictate the decisions you make.

In June 2016, graphic co- design workshops were held in three locations in Northern Mozambique. In the workshops 100 local people co - designed used lived experience to inform the design of a pack of stickers, alerting users to key moments, where a small behaviour change could be fostered in relation to malaria prevention. Young and old, students, community leaders, mothers, teachers, doctors, traditional healers and NGO’s took part in the workshops, some held on the streets. Hundreds of iterations of the intended stickers were discussed, designed and refined along the way and new streams of knowledge were identified from the lived experience of the participants.
The sticker packs have since been tested in Mozambique by the people who created them, and the response to their communication and usability is very positive, The final visual iteration challenges previous research on semiotics in health communication for low literacy groups. The project team will return to Mozambique in 2019 to distribute them further, and to establish collaboration with mosquito net providers and health policy makers.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    30 April 2018

  • Publication Status:


  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


MacLeod, M. Learning from the locals: how can co-design support malaria education in a post-colonial environment?



Health Communication, Co-Design, Semiotics,

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