• ← Thesis 2013
  • explores how graphic design can simplify health communications for asthma management. The work is Julie Sayo's thesis project for her MFA in Graphic Design at MICA.


    My brother, Chris, after being hospitalized for a severe asthma attack at age 7.

    I grew up with asthma and most of my family members have asthma. During my M.A. in Social Design, I was discerning my thesis topic and recalled a conversation I had a woman at a health fair in Baltimore. She mentioned that Baltimore was one of the worst cities for people with asthma and that asthma sufferers often lose the boxes for their inhalers which contain important information about how a patient should manage her/his condition. Knowing first hand the impact of asthma on an individual's life, I decided to pursue asthma management as a thesis topic. Although it seemed like a tempting design project to jump into, I knew that I needed to understand more about asthma and asthma treatment. I sought to uncover how design could influence asthma management and what can a designer do to make an impact in this space. For my M.F.A. thesis, I expanded my work and research on asthma management.


    For my thesis work, I focused on designing and creating tools that can help people with asthma. The tools I created are a response to my findings during my research and aim to address issues of compliance, education and prevention care.

    01. Compliance
    Following doctor’s orders to take medication regularly and properly is one of the biggest problems in asthma management. Often, extenuating circumstances exist, such as inadequate access to health care services, which prevent a patient from taking their medication consistently, even though they know about the consequences of not taking medications.

    02. Education
    Because of the prevalence of asthma, hearsay about how to treat and manage the condition is taken as truth. I met a number of children with asthma who reported that their parents would give them their sibling’s asthma medication because it was “all the same.” Using unprescribed medication can be lethal for asthma patients during an emergency. Educating patients about their condition and treatment is crucial in providing the best care and treatment for their asthma.

    03. Preventative care
    Although there is no cure for asthma, the condition is preventable by knowing one's asthma symptoms and understanding how to avoid asthma triggers. Closely following an asthma action plan prescribed by a doctor is one of the most accurate ways to prevent an asthma attack.

    01. Pollen

    I designed a concept app, Pollen. The app is a preventative tool for anyone suffering from allergies or asthma. It allows a user to check the current pollen count to determine if she/he needs to take allergy medications for the day.

    02. Breathing Sounds

    Motion graphics experiment in breath sounds. Teaching tool for educators and parents to understand and identify early symptoms of asthma.

    03. Breathe Easy

    A concept app that acts as a digital asthma management plan. The app reminds a user to take her/his medication on time and allows a user to record her/his peak flow readings, which can be useful in predicting an asthma attack.

    Key Concepts
    • Educate patients about their condition

    • Patients should play an active role in their treatment

    • Patients should keep a journal of their symptoms

    Breathe Easy concept app video


    Some of the earliest memories of my older brother, Chris, were of him in a hospital bed hooked up to a nebulizer, an apparatus that delivers a mist of asthma medication to a patient as they breathe. Asthma runs in my family; my brother was constantly in and out of the hospital for severe asthma attacks, and in 1997, my grandfather died due to complications related to asthma. My parents were very strict about not having pets and making sure that no one in the household smoked cigarettes when I was growing up. My brother stayed indoors and played video games instead to avoid the many asthma triggers outside. I was taught at a young age what to do when I saw my brother struggling to breathe. My mom showed me how to measure out medication into my brother’s home nebulizer and how to help him during an attack. I did not envy my brother’s condition; his life seemed so limited. Read more...


    MFA I Exhibition, April 5-15, 2013, Maryland Institute College of Art, Decker Gallery