AOD addressing depression through Design

AOD design students lead by faculty present a fresh response to a paramount social issue through creative thinking

Design thinking is one of today’s most powerful tools in finding solutions to the most pressing social issues of our times. By approaching the problem through non-traditional means and understanding the mindset of the people affected, design thinkers are able to derive radical new methods to address such issues. Although design thinking is now a widely accepted approach to solve major social issues in developed economies, it is yet to find full potential in Sri Lanka. Leading the way to change this and bring design thinking to the forefront of resolving social issues is AOD- Sri Lanka’s dynamic design educator. On 7 April 2017, WHO and the Ministry of Health, Nutrition & Indigenous Medicine organized a special event to celebrate World Health Day. Academy of Design, along with many stakeholders working in the field of mental health, came on board to use design and creative thinking to help tackle one of today’s leading health burdens in the country - depression.  

In Sri Lanka, WHO estimates that over 800 000 people have depression and it is predicted to become the number one cause of disability in the coming years. Depression can occur in anybody and can have devastating consequences for relationships, family and friends. Nevertheless, depression can be prevented and treated. Therefore, increasing awareness of depression is an important first step towards reducing stigma and encouraging people to seek help.


The design solution presented in the form of an interactive installation was launched at AOD, and encouraged young people to find relief in expressing their fears, sorrows and challenges etc. within a safe and private environment. This interactive project is part of AOD’s greater mission to align design with its potential as a social change-agent and highlighting the role of creativity in tackling serious issues that affect society.

Dr Jacob Kumaresan, previous WHO Representative to Sri Lanka, stated that;“Depression: Let’s Talk is the theme for World Health Day 2017, and this year our event was aimed at taking a very important conversation on depression and mental health directly to the people. The work being done by the Academy of Design was instrumental in engaging with youth through art and helping them to share their personal stories of depression and dispelling myths and stigma surrounding the condition. We found it inspiring to work with young design talent and see how they tackle a problem that significantly affects peers of their own age group- it was a great success.”

AOD has often been at the forefront of such unique projects. AOD is the pioneering force behind projects such as the Sri Lanka Design Festival, Urban Island Project as well as student driven initiatives such as 100Voices, AOD Flood Relief Project etc. that utilized design to transform business, society and address presently relevant issues. This project too, was part of this constant move to use design to better the world, while it also gave AOD’s young designers an opportunity to use their design thinking skills for a major social cause, providing an important learning curve. It is projects of this nature that allow AOD students to flourish into young design professionals who are sensitive to society's real issues and creates the ‘conscious AOD designer’ that the school so often prides itself in producing.

AOD’s principal, British designer Karen MacLeod was instrumental in leading the school’s international faculty to guide the students along this important project. Sharing her views on the initiative, MacLeod stated that it delivered at many levels; “I am proud of what the students came up with the help of our faculty, and I think the installation provides WHO with an alternative model for addressing depression in public spaces, academic institutes etc. where youth can be targeted. Therefore, I feel the outcome of the project delivered at many levels from being a learning experience for our students and most importantly, in paving the way for a possible alternative method to tackle a very serious mental health issue.”

AOD’s current way of educating, which allows students access real, live projects in partnership with local businesses, industries has been praised by many for the way in which it instills social responsibility, professionalism and out-of-the-box thinking in young minds. This wholesome approach to education paired with a powerful academic partnership with UK’s Northumbria University which makes the design degrees at AOD recognized worldwide, makes AOD the most trusted choice for private design education in Sri Lanka.