Fall Convocation 2019: at the nexus of design, medicine and education

BDes graduates Trina Bloemen and Cody Wesley are using design to impact people's lives

Carmen Rojas - 20 November 2019

After completing their Industrial Design studies in the Department of Art & Design earlier this year, Trina Bloemen and Cody Wesley transitioned seamlessly into the kind of challenging, meaningful career that new university graduates dream about.

In their ground-floor office, where large windows look out on a busy intersection on the U of A campus, Bloemen ('19 BDes, Industrial Design) and Wesley ('19 BDes, Industrial Design) spend their days working at the nexus of design, medicine and education.

As junior designers with the Academic Technologies unit in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, Bloemen and Wesley work on projects that can help residents become better doctors and improve the experiences of patients and their families.

How BDes graduates Trina Bloemen and Cody Wesley are using design to impact people's lives

Trina Bloemen ('19 BDes, Industrial Design)

They originally joined the unit in January 2019, completing a practicum to gain design experience in a real-world setting before they graduated. Their focus during this time was a project to create 3D visualizations of congenital heart disease.

Working closely with their mentors, Patrick von Hauff from Academic Technologies and Charles Larson from the Pediatric Cardiology Intensive Care Unit in the Stollery Children's Hospital, they were quickly able to dive into a daunting area and put their skills to work.

"What was really valuable about our practicum was that Patrick and Charles really trusted us," says Wesley. "As a student who's just finishing up school, you wonder if all the things you learned are actually useful. It was really validating for me that someone who saves babies is trusting us and thinking we can help improve his ward. That gave us a lot of confidence as designers."

Larson helped Bloemen and Wesley with their initial research for the project by allowing them to follow him on the ward for a day and finding them families to talk to about their experiences.

How BDes graduates Trina Bloemen and Cody Wesley are using design to impact people's lives

Cody Wesley ('19 BDes, Industrial Design)

"We got to see the emotional side of having a child in the hospital and how difficult it is to wrap your head around what it means to have a hole in your heart," says Bloemen. "[The doctors] really have no pictures; they can't show you anything."

After interviewing families and residents on the ward, Bloemen and Wesley used what they'd learned to hone in on design solutions that could give people a visual understanding of heart disease that went beyond the standard 2D illustrations.

These solutions included printing 3D models of hearts and creating spatial ability cubes to educate residents about how the heart looks from six different sides. Bloemen and Wesley were also involved in creating a toy model of a patient's heart, complete with wings and blasters to turn it into a TIE fighter from Star Wars, to help a child who had undergone a heart transplant see what his original heart had looked like.

Since their practicum ended, Bloemen and Wesley's work has expanded to other projects, including helping to create a finalized prototype of a board game that allows doctors to practice neo-natal resuscitation.

Neither Bloemen nor Wesley could have foreseen being involved in this type of work when they started their Industrial Design degrees. They were both drawn to the program by an interest in building things, and eventually discovered their passions for medical design.

"Throughout the degree I learned that you can use design to impact other people," says Wesley. "You can work in multidisciplinary fields and really be the glue that can hold a lot of things together."

They credit professors such as Rob Lederer, Tim Antoniuk and Ben King with opening their eyes to the ways that design can help people. "They help you realize that design isn't just about making something successfully; it's about considering the human side," says Bloemen. "Not just selling a product, but making sure it's impacting people and it's actually serving them."

How BDes graduates Trina Bloemen and Cody Wesley are using design to impact people's lives

3D print of a congenital heart lesion created from patient scans, and an information sheet with colorized renders for junior doctor learners.

Their early experiences with health-related design include a project where Bloemen created stimulus socks for a boy with cerebral palsy who walked on his tip toes, and one where Wesley designed a roll cart that allows people with lower body disabilities to participate in sports.

Taking a class taught by Patrick von Hauff that connected designers, medical students and pharmacists set them on the path they're on today - and it's one they're excited to keep walking as they build their careers.

"I'm really happy sitting here," reflects Bloemen. "Especially because it's an intersection of medicine and education. If we can work together to help educate people or provide better care for people, it's really challenging but that's what I feel really rewarded by."