Design in Crisis: How the COVID-19 Crisis illustrates Social Impact Design


When COVID-19 hit the U.S., design visualizations helped us understand “flatten the curve”. When it rapidly progressed, makers of all backgrounds answered the call to supply masks while designers engineered a localized solution to provide needed ventilators to hospitals. As state governors and health professionals in Rhode Island worked to manage the crisis and communicate effectively, designers became partners - developing clear visual materials, signage, website forms and data collection. And when it was clear faster testing was needed in hardest hit locations, designers worked with the National Guard and state to retrofit storage trailers as mobile testing locations.

Throughout the crisis, design has responded and even led the way through murky waters and complex challenges. We can look to these examples of designing in crisis and outline a framework to help designers decide where and when they can best intervene. Join this conversation with local designers that answered the call to respond and lead the problem-solving changes needed during Rhode Island’s COVID-19 crisis and explore this illustration of social impact design.


Charlie Cannon

RISD, Faciltator

Charlie Cannon is a designer and educator focused on the contributions that design can make to addressing the wicked problems of our day. He is an Associate Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, and is currently a Challenger at Large at Epic Decade and a Scholar in Residence at PopTech.

At RISD, Charlie cofounded the Innovation Studio. The studio brings interdisciplinary collaboration, creative thinking, social innovation and research to bear on intractable problems ranging from climate change to community development, from social justice to civic infrastructure. The Innovation Studio operates as a laboratory for new ideas to shift the attention of the design disciplines toward complex, present-day concerns, and to involve the larger public in the search for their solutions. Research projects emerging from the Innovation Studio have been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rhode Island Renewable Energy Fund, and the RISD Research Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.

Cannon’s professional life as a designer has been quite varied. For the last ten years he worked with non-profit organizations and for-profit enterprise to drive social innovation. Previously, he worked as a builder and carpenter; as a co-founder of two award-winning architecture practices; as a web strategies and software interface designer; as well as a studio furniture maker and a strategist.

Ben Guhin Delphine

the Policy Lab

Ben Guhin Delphine is Head of Design at The Policy Lab at Brown University. There he leads the Lab’s practices around human-centered design, user research, systems mapping, and workforce development. He also serves as a Senior Advisor for Design & Technology Policy for the City of Austin, Texas.

At The Policy Lab, Ben has worked with the Rhode Island Department of Education on interface designs for sharing data and predictive models with high school teachers, with the Rhode Island Division of Human Resources on understanding and evaluating processes for hiring and personnel management, and with the cities of Providence and Central Falls on building capacity for design, technology, and innovation.

Ben’s work has been recognized in outlets including Communication Arts, the Webby Awards, the Center for Plain Language, Government Technology, Route Fifty, and Apolitical, which included him in their inaugural list of the World’s 100 Most Influential Young People in Government. He started his career as a designer at the global digital agency Huge, where he worked for travel, education, retail, and entertainment clients including JetBlue, Kaplan, Lowe’s, and HBO GO. He studied design at the California Institute for the Arts and holds a BA in Design & Digital Media from Fordham University.

Alex Hornstein

Founder, Ventilator Project

Alex Hornstein grew up with a soldering iron in one hand and a butterfly net in the other. Later on, he went to MIT to study electrical engineering and computer science and spent the next decade circumnavigating the globe and working on a wide swath of different inventions. In 2014, he co-founded the holographic display startup Looking Glass Factory, where he works as CTO and runs the company’s R&D lab focused on lightfield imagery, very large lightfield displays, and holographic interaction. In 2020, he founded Ventilator Project as a community-driven response to the worldwide ventilator shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When he’s not in the lab, you can find him on the tops of a mountain or at the bottom of the ocean, but always with his wife and daughter.

Hannah Liongoren

Designer, Ventilator Project

Hannah Liongoren is a Filipina designer living in Providence. She received a master’s in Design in 2017 from RISD Interior architecture, Adaptive Reuse, and a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts with a major in Visual Communication from the University of the Philippines in 2007. She joined the RISD faculty in 2020 where she’s co-teaching an IntAr advanced studio called “The Future of Animal Exhibition.” Prior to pursuing graduate school, Hannah practiced in Southeast Asia for more than a decade as an art director and illustrator for agencies Ogilvy and Mather, TBWA, and Young & Rubicam (Y & R). She art directed the communication campaign of the Ventilator Project, a community-based effort to collect, sort, and document sleep apnea machines to be used in hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients.

Jeanette Numbers


Jeanette Numbers is an experienced design thinker and leader, based in Providence, RI. As Cofounder of Loft, she specializes in creating visually compelling, human-centered design solutions that are rooted in purpose and driven by research.

Numbers’ work spans dozens of global brands and a wide variety of industries. She has had proven success both in and outside of the corporate environment, leading teams in strategic design thinking, digital and physical product design, and final product commercialization. Her career has taken her to New York, San Francisco, Boston, and finally to Providence, where Loft’s corporate headquarters is based.

As a longtime champion of local mentorship and community-building, Numbers is excited to build on her vision for a collaborative and authentic design culture as chair of the Providence IDSA chapter.

Rachel Stuver

RDW Group

Rachel Stuver is a senior art director at RDW Group. She approaches every project with a fresh perspective, and believes firmly in the power of typography. Her extensive design education includes a graphic design certificate from Rhode Island School of Design. Rachel particularly enjoys working on branding and identity projects, and creating user-friendly online experiences (like landing pages, animated banners, and microsites).

Lara Salamano

Infosys, Head of Design Innovation Center

Lara Salamano has 20+ years experience as a brand strategist and marketing executive. She has a proven track record of developing and implementing innovative brand marketing strategies across multiple networks, platforms and demographics. Lara spent much of her career at Viacom/ MTV Networks leading partner marketing across multiple brands. Prior to joining Infosys Lara was the Chief Marketing Officer for the State of Rhode Island. At Infosys, Lara leads the Providence Design and Innovation hub. In her role, she manages staff, operations, business development, community and government relations as well as college and university partnerships.

Michelle Wilson

Co-Lead, RIDOH Health Equity Institute

Michelle Wilson has over thirty years’ experience advancing community resilience, racial equity, and social justice. For the past ten years, Michelle has worked at the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) where she currently serves as Co-Lead of the Health Equity Institute. The mission of the Health Equity Institute is to collaborate with RIDOH staff, state leaders, and community partners to ensure every Rhode Islander has a fair and just opportunity to be healthy. Prior to this new role, she was the Director for the Office of Racial Equity and Inclusion where she helped lead efforts to eliminate health disparities as well as examine policies, practices, and programs that perpetuate institutional racism and systemic inequities. Michelle also spent six years as the Assistant Internal Planning Coordinator with the Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response where her work focused on building community capacity to respond effectively to natural or man-made disasters or acts of terrorism. Michelle is co-founder of RIDOH’s Social Justice Roundtable (recently renamed the Racial Justice Roundtable) and provides staff support to the state’s Commission for Health Advocacy and Equity.