What do lemons have to do with breast cancer awareness? Corrine Ellsworth Beaumont uses the fruit as a visual stand-in for breasts as part of her Worldwide Breast Cancer educational effort. (I learned about Beaumont via Mothers With Cancer—thanks ladies!)
Worldwide Breast Cancer makes it easy to understand the basics of breast cancer. According to a site description: “By using a friendly metaphor to open the discussion, the opportunities to communicate go beyond language, education and culture and truly have the potential to connect globally.”
The designer’s lemon-centric visuals have been used in North America, Europe and Asia to communicate detailed information about the signs of breast cancer. They can be displayed publicly without censorship.
“The Mayor” is a female character who serves as a sort of project mascot. “When this character was tested in the Qatar, the women commented that they could identify with her because she was Muslim,” Beaumont said. “In the U.S., women said that they could identify with The Mayor because she was American. This multiple decoding of the character is the intended result of her design. It should appear to be like the viewer.”
What’s Up with the Lemons?
In 2001, Beaumont, then 21, went to an award-winning cancer library to learn more about breast cancer. Having lost two grandmothers to the disease, she wanted to know about the relationship between family history and breast cancer risk. “I thought it would be a simple process of walking in, picking up a pamphlet and being on my way,” the designer explains. “That was far from the truth. As a 21 year-old woman, no one knew what to tell me. They pointed out several websites and gave me pamphlets aimed at middle-aged women. Not one resource gave me the full picture. I heard about lumps, but didn’t know what they felt like. There was a lot of conflicting information, and it was difficult to know which sources were accurate.”
The graphic design challenge appealed to Beaumont: Making an attractive, complete and easy to share presentation would go far to bring the information to those who were afraid, embarrassed, uninterested or overwhelmed.
She spent several months observing women being screened in a women’s health clinic and in an imaging center. “I gained some interesting insights: physicians don’t know everything, lumps are hard and not squishy, patients are handed from one step to the next without being given an overview, and women have many reasons for not being more active about their breast health.”
Next, she created a series of “Lemonland” breast screening posters. “The images were of lemons, photographed in a way that resembled breasts,” she explains. “This made the message friendly, memorable, and avoided censorship in public while allowing the information to remain specific.”
The key posters showed the 12 signs of breast cancer and the anatomy of a breast. Ellsworth Beaumont’s work elicited positive responses. But the designer realized that many people still weren’t being reached.
“Those who were not comfortable speaking English, or did not attend health fairs or visit their GP, would never see this information,” the designer explains. “I moved to England and began my doctoral research studying how to globalize the message of breast cancer using visuals. I assessed breast cancer organizations in English-speaking countries, looked at their educational materials and strategies, and analyzed campaigns. I found that most campaigns were targeted very specifically to certain groups, and when that campaign went outside that group, the campaign weakened.”
Breast Cancer Without Borders
Different countries have different screening recommendations and programs. Age, gender, family history and other factors all contributed to risk, which also changes recommendations for individuals.
“Most breast cancer educational materials were divided into race,” says Beaumont. “This required having new images to represent those individuals for each campaign. Or having materials with many images of different women to reflect the whole audience, leaving little room for visuals to represent the actual message. Often educational materials for English speakers, were better designed than their foreign-speaking counterparts. This creates a visual segregation immediately, as almost if to say, ‘The educated English speaking population is worth the illustrated pamphlet, your group is worth a few paragraphs of text.’ That of course is not the intention of any breast cancer campaign, but because of tight resources, the minority groups have the minority of the information, despite the fact that the information is available in abundance.”
As part of her doctoral project, Beaumont asked 250 women about their knowledge of breast cancer detection and screening. “Many did not know the signs of breast cancer or what a lump felt like.,” she says “Collaborating with oncologists, radiologists, breast cancer survivors, nurses and screening technicians, the message was developed and designs were created to communicate concepts that patients didn’t understand.”
“I’m just one person with design skills and good friends that have helped me build this site.”
Beaumont, now an official doctor of design, would like to see Worldwide Breast Cancer become a global organization and attract funding to expand its efforts.
For the past five years, she has been researching how visitors are using www.worldwidebreastcancer.com: “I’ve learned what people are searching for, what pages are the most popular and how it could be designed to make it even better. Over 50,000 people have been educated by the website so far, which is incredible and I want that number to grow even more!”
Maybe you can help.