Meet Alex Durussel-Baker, Founder of Diabetes by Design

On the 9th Day of Diabadass - One Drop

I live in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, with my husband and gorgeous puppy, Bacchus.

I grew up in the French part of Switzerland where I was a ski instructor for longer than was sensible, then moved to Scotland to study design in 2009.

When not producing diabetes-inspired posters for @diabetesbydesign, I’m a product strategist with a background in startups and agency design. I recently founded a design collective that brings together “plug-and-play” teams to deliver design sprints, an innovation methodology to help solve business problems and bring ideas to life in just a few weeks.

And by night (and absurdly early morning), I am the host and founder of CreativeMornings/Edinburgh, an event series for creatives.

Alex’s Life With Diabetes

I was diagnosed on the 25th of August, 2018, while on a work trip in New York City. I was 30 years old.

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I’d been feeling rubbish, so had some blood tests done the morning of my flight, thinking I had a low-iron deficiency or something. A few hours later, I received a rather alarming call from my doctor to get to a hospital immediately.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, I was already sitting on the plane that was minutes from take-off. Not the most relaxed flight ensued!

By not having much understanding of diabetes—let alone type 1 diabetes— and no family history to speak of, I was in denial of anything being seriously wrong with me.

We arrived in Times Square at 1 a.m., had some pizza, and checked into our AirBnB. The next morning we strolled over to the New York-Presbyterian where they checked my blood sugar, checked it again, then asked me what the hell I had had for breakfast (coffee)!

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My blood sugar was at 580 mg/dL. I stayed there for 3 nights. Life has not been the same since! (You can read more about where I’ve been and where I’ve come since diagnosis over here.)

Diabetes By Design: The Poster Project

The idea for my poster project came about 6 months after diagnosis.

At the time, I was following as many diabetics on Instagram and listening to all the diabetic-themed podcasts I could. Looking back, I think I was searching for people’s life stories, trying to make sense of my disease through their experiences of it.

I was coming to terms with the fact that this was a lifestyle, not a condition.

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As a designer, I was having so much trouble identifying with the books and flyers being handed to me by the medical staff. It simply felt, looked, and was so clinical. Too clinical for me to relate to.

While diabetes is always in the news, it’s not always portrayed accurately. I felt there was a massive awareness issue.

With @diabetesbydesign, I set myself the challenge of making a poster a day that encapsulated the obscure, funny, and oftentimes ridiculous sides of living with type 1 diabetes.

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I wanted to visualise living with a chronic illness in a way that would entice people into learning about the condition. It also ends up being something of a conversation starter.

Reaching Others With Diabetes

For November’s National Diabetes Awareness Month, I put on a poster exhibition. Seeing my work printed in large format and people interacting with it was just amazing. There were close to 100 people on the opening night; I had never seen so many people with type 1 diabetes one place!

Not to mention, the feedback and conversations online have doubled my enthusiasm to keep these posters going.

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But beyond the physical show, it’s the diagnosis stories people share with me when they stumble upon my Instagram account.

A few weeks ago, I got a message from a 28-year-old guy lying in a hospital in Brasil. He’d just been diagnosed and his sister had sent him a link to my poster project. He said his world was upside down, but that reading through the posters was helping him make sense of it all.

That was an amazing moment for me, and I totally got a bit emotional over that message!

What’s Next for Design in Diabetes?

I’m still making my posters and have started selling them! 20% of the proceeds go to UK diabetes charity, Diabetes Scotland.

I have been invited to take the exhibition to Glasgow next year and would love to tour it beyond Scotland one day! I love hearing from people who enjoy the posters and often get inspiration from their hacks and diagnosis stories for new posters.

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Each poster has a piece of my story, but I would love to start including more voices in the project.

Who knows, maybe one day others newly-diagnosed with diabetes could be handed a poster book to kickstart their new, diabadass lifestyle!

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Mary Elizabeth Adams
Dec 17, 2019

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