Alyson Fraser Diaz facilitates a brainstorming session.

Social change by design

May 15, 2024

Alyson Fraser Diaz, ’14, contributes to positive social change one website redesign at a time. Drawing on her undergraduate degree in leadership studies and her MFA in Design for Social Innovation, the freelance design consultant and brand strategist helps social-impact organizations and nonprofits raise awareness of their work and increase user accessibility.

“I do research to try to understand the problem, so I can design a solution,” said Fraser Diaz, who is based in the New York City metropolitan area.

For example, she worked on a project focused on increasing foster parent recruitment to support the roughly 400,000 children and youth living in foster care in the U.S. Specifically, state governments and child-welfare agencies wanted to recruit more Black and Indigenous foster parents to align with the demographics of the children in foster care.

“I researched the issues and conducted a lot of interviews with child-welfare organization staff and prospective resource parents to understand what prevents people from certain demographics from becoming foster parents,” Fraser Diaz said. “Then I changed the website design to be more welcoming to people considering foster parenting.”

Another project involved improving the user experience on a website with information about COVID testing. Again, she interviewed many people to determine the issues they encountered on the website.

“I learned about the language barriers for Spanish speakers and their confusion about dates,” the alumna said, noting that Spanish speakers put dates in day-month-year order. “Making small changes in design can make a website more accessible and lead to better outcomes.”

Other memorable projects include one looking at mental health services on college campuses and another exploring how best to support survivors of gender-based violence.

“Survivors of gender-based violence often feel isolated and struggle to form community,” Fraser Diaz said. “As a researcher, you can make a difference by giving someone an opportunity to share their story. Then you can design tools and resources to help them.

“Through my Jepson School of Leadership Studies education, I gained a foundational understanding of social systems, giving me a competitive edge in this work. I learned to be comfortable questioning things, thinking critically, and forming my own opinions. I bring these soft skills from the Jepson School together with the technical skills from my School of Visual Arts MFA to my research and design work.”

When she is not engaged in her social-impact design work, Fraser Diaz indulges her passion for art. Using screen-printing techniques that she learned in University of Richmond art classes, she recently created several small quilts that depict her family history through images and words.

She said a quilt that bears a screen print of a photograph of her grandparents as a young couple will be featured in a forthcoming issue of the Heritage Journal, a print publication celebrating Black, Indigenous, and people-of-color narratives. Her art has appeared in the Newark Museum of Art and several galleries. In June, it will be on display at Arts Benicia, a gallery in Benicia, California.