The Role of Graphic Design in Dietetics

By: Alexis Mateer

Me with my poster on sustainable farming practices

Do you want to be an entrepreneur in the nutrition field? Do you ever want to own your own business, go into private practice, or even just develop more visually appealing education materials for your patients? If so then you need graphic design in your life! Graphic design is necessary for marketing purposes in a variety of fields. Within nutrition and dietetics, it’s necessary for disseminating nutrition information through creation of images that, for example, demonstrate serving sizes or nutrition facts. Now I am no graphic design expert; I am simply a dietetic intern who, through her internship, has discovered the benefits of embracing graphic design!

I got matched to University of Maryland (UMD) College Park Dietetic Internship, and I can confidently say that I am glad I did. I knew from the beginning that the internship has a technology focus; I just did not realize that the tech focus encompasses elements of graphic design.

How I got my Feet Wet with Graphic Design

My third rotation of this internship was in UMD’s campus dining services department. My intern partner, Abby, and I walked in on the first day and were welcomed with a packet of projects. The site has had interns before, so they were well prepared for us and knew how they wanted to use us. The rotation was three weeks, and it was demanding. Essentially, we were tasked with marketing the Cool Foods Movement to the student body, as well as creating educational nutrition infographics. The Cool Foods Movement is about elevating sustainable practices to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. UMD was the first university to sign the Cool Foods Pledge—reducing food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030. Both marketing the Cool Foods Movement and creating nutrition infographics required that we design visual educational materials. 

Table Tents, Articles, Posters Oh My!

Abby and I were each tasked with making 3 table tents, one poster, and two nutrition article fact sheets. We had three weeks. They all had to be on the Cool Foods theme. For all of our graphics we used Canva. Canva is a website that allows users to easily make infographics, flyers, posters, magazine covers, etc. Throughout this rotation I got better and better at using Canva to create what I wanted. At the end of the rotation, our preceptor told us that our graphics were some of the best she had seen! I’d never before thought of myself as being very tech savvy or a design natural, so I was pretty proud.

Wellness Walls

Wellness Wall week one

Each week of the internship Abby and I also created a Wellness Wall. This is a bulletin board that contains one nutrition tip, cooking tip, healthy recipe, and exercise tip. The bulletin boards and infographics needed to have a united theme. The theme Abby and I chose was, “It’s Spooky Season, but Healthy Habits don’t have to be Scary.” We also had to replicate each bulletin board in Spanish. 

Why I think Graphic Design is Relevant for Dietitians

So why is this important for dietitians, or future Registered Dietitians (RDs) like me?

  1. Health Literacy

It’s simple: images can be easier to understand than words. For some, language and literacy are barriers to healthcare and medical advice. Abby and I came to this realization when creating an infographic for UMD’s dish room staff. The infographic used both words and images to detail the safe use of the chemical Scale Away. Since the diverse staff included individuals that speak different languages, we realized that making a highly visual graphic utilizing common safety symbols was best.

  1. Different Styles of Learning 

Not all people learn the same ways. Personally, I learn best by seeing and then doing. Not everyone is going to be able to read a document or educational material and understand it or be able to act on it. We can’t expect clients or patients to be able to do the same with nutrition advice. Having the ability to give patients verbal, written, and visual instruction or education will enhance their comprehension and create lasting, powerful messages. Infographics are powerful tools that incorporate both written and visual messaging. 

  1. Branding and Marketing

If you are trying to build a personal brand or are working in private practice, graphic design is going to help you build your client base. Private practice entrepreneurs and/or anyone developing a personal brand must be able to reach their target audience. This is done through marketing, and is most effective when done with a set of specific messages and expectations about that brand. Logos, handouts, and materials that are easy to understand and that showcase personality, knowledge, and trust are necessary.

  1. Making Yourself Stand Out

If you feel that there is a need for some type of graphic or educational material at your facility or worksite, then you have the power to fix that! And people don’t necessarily know what they are missing until they see it. Be the person to create that missing piece or educational element and bring it to your facility’s attention. It’s going to make you stand out as an employee, and seem like a worthy candidate when looking for that promotion.

A Few Design Tips I’ve learned:

  • Simple Message – Overall message should be direct, clear, and specific.
  • Color – Colors should be pleasing to the eye, set the mood, and lead the eyes to important content.
  • Font Size – Consider your audience. Older adults will need larger font size. Text that is easiest to read will be dark on a lighter background.
  • White Space – Don’t overcrowd graphics. White space is essential, and if lacking, can make content unappealing.

Wrapping it all up…

Learning how to make graphics can be time consuming at first, but definitely becomes easier with practice, trust me. Start practicing now! Think about creative ways that you could enhance your work. Despite being so busy with all my projects in school dining, the rotation remains one of my favorites. I really did enjoy making all the nutrition-related graphics; it was kind of relaxing! I liked having a physical, final product of my labors and it feels great getting commended for my creations. Graphics are necessary materials in the field of nutrition messaging. How can you play a part in their creation and use?

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