Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2013

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Design (MDes)




Stacie Rohrbach


Abstract. Stigmas perpetuate negative attitudes held towards specific groups of people robbing them of agency and voice. This disempowerment contributes to low self-esteem, depressive symptoms, and an overall lower quality of life for those who are stigmatized. Although pervasive, stigmas should be considered problematic to progressive, heterogeneous societies because they aid in the creation of in-groups and out-groups.Things can become radicalized between groups leading to horrible atrocities when one group decides to eradicate the other. Conflicts over stigmas may present themselves in subtle, less hostile ways but people’s lives are negatively impacted regardless.

To combat a stigma, its accompanying stereotypes must be challenged. New, more accurate or nuanced mental models need to replace old offensive ones. But to get to a point where people are willing to learn and adopt a new mental model, work needs to be done to engage them in the topic. Simply broadcasting a new message of tolerance will not create lasting change for a critical mass. This won’t be enough to overturn an ingrained societal value. Instead, work needs to be done to create engaging and relevant information that presents a new mental model. Engagement must come before education because if the audience isn’t curious or interested in learning, the message will fall on deaf ears. This thesis focuses on the first steps in combatting stigmas—engagement and education—in an effort to establish a solid framework for the design of communication pieces that ultimately challenge the infrastructure of stigmas.