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Wes O’Seadna: Storytelling Through Design

Graphics and E-Learning Designer Wes O'Seadna will use his design skills to help NWCPHP better connect with public health professionals.
Wes O’Seadna: Storytelling Through Design

NWCPHP Graphic and E-Learning Designer Wes O'Seadna enjoys time in the park with his son, Pacific, 5.

Graphics and E-Learning Designer Wes O'Seadna will use his design skills to help NWCPHP better connect with public health professionals.

May 15, 2018

Wes O’Seadna’s goal as a visual designer is often for his work to be invisible. “With a lot of design work, if you do it right, people don’t notice it,” he said. “But it presents information so readers can easily scan, evaluate, process, and understand it.”

O’Seadna’s behind-the-scenes work as NWCPHP’s Graphics and E-Learning Designer adds clarity and polish to almost everything the Center produces, from e-learning modules to webinars to infographics and brochures. But to O’Seadna, design is about much more than just making things look pretty.

“Design is about communication,” he said. “We try to present to people a compelling story that will affect people and, ideally, convince them to give whatever is being discussed serious consideration.”

How can design tell a story? O’Seadna believes that every story, visual or not, has its own design—decisions the storyteller makes that helps connect with the audience. In visual design, those decisions might tap into symbols, prioritize information, or create a mood to support the content and help the information seem intuitive and meaningful.

“I end up spending a lot of time working with questions about contextualization, sense-making, attention management, and memory, even for something as simple as the visual design on a brochure,” he explained.

O’Seadna’s design contributions also go beyond the visual, including work on NWCPHP’s learning games and other digital interactive and multimedia products. For this work, O’Seadna is always thinking about how people experience things. “A lot of what I do requires anticipating what someone else will need or want, and how they’ll react, then trying to create something that will meet their needs in that moment,” he said. That means careful analysis of small details: Is a user getting enough time to think and choose, but not so much that they get bored? Is an audio cue too loud or soft? What sequence of information will provide the best experience?

O’Seadna joined NWPCHP in February 2018 after a 17-year career as a graphic designer in a variety of fields. In addition to designing a variety of materials for NWCPHP’s training and communication activities, he also coordinates and facilitates the Hot Topics in Practice webinar series.

What stands out to him about working at NWCPHP is the sense of mission—“believing in the work I’m helping to support, and feeling that I’m helping other people,” he said. “Much of the work designers do is focused around things that are intended to make money. You are thinking constantly about how to optimize for selling and appeal to the consumer or user, which is subtly manipulative. Working here, I can focus entirely on supporting clear communication and effective learning—it’s quite freeing.”

NWCPHP E-Learning Manager Sarah Manchanda said she’s excited to have O’Seadna on board and looks forward to tapping his experience and skills to better deliver online training to public health professionals.

“Wes brings a unique point of view to our team. His experience in using design to tell a story in a way that people can easily understand will help us make our trainings more engaging and relevant for our audience,” she said. 

O’Seadna was born in Missouri and moved to Seattle in 2012 from Chicago, after visiting for the first time the previous year. “It’s an absolutely amazing part of the country,” he said, noting the area’s unique water, mountain, and forest landscapes.

Outside of work, O’Seadna writes short fiction, creates digital art, and practices sculpting, woodworking, and cooking. His son Pacific, 5, has a rare DNA repair disorder called xeroderma pigmentosum, or XP, which includes a heightened sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation. Although they cannot spend time outdoors in direct sun, exploring nature is still a favorite activity. They observe through the windows at home or while driving, go to parks after sunset to run around in the twilight, and do night gardening, which Pacific especially loves.

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