JoEllen Martinson Davis: Two Movements With Staying Power

Disability-Considered Design and Visual Connection to the Natural World

JoEllen Martinson Davis is an Associate Creative Director at Ultra Creative. She’s been with Ultra for 17 years, using her talents through a variety of media to bring campaigns, packaging, and brands to life. She’s worked as a project lead for clients like General Mills, Children’s Hospitals of MN, Hershey’s, and Heinz, and is the recipient of numerous design awards. JoEllen excels at idea generation and brings her thoughtful integrity to help clients discover emotionally engaging creative. A devotee of Mister Rogers, she champions kindness and is an advocate of inclusion for all.



The language of design is constantly evolving. As a creative, I look to see what is resonating with consumers and prompting long-term behavior change. Two trends that have staying power are how brands are addressing disabilities and how they are incorporating natural cues into their products.

Design and Disability

There’s a movement to drop “idealized” depictions of people in advertising campaigns in an effort to show “real and authentic” imagery. Companies and retailers are including more people of all sizes, shapes, backgrounds, and skin tones. They are being pushed to provide more inclusive, representative and accessible design to include the now 1 in 4 people with disabilities. We see it happening in a few ways:

Inclusion: Brands are elevating people with disabilities in their ad campaigns. For example, Gerber chose Lucas Warren, a baby with Down syndrome, as its brand ambassador in 2018. Additionally, Getty Images is updating their stock photography to better represent people with disabilities.

Accessibility: Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats adding free Braille sticker sheets to their “Love Notes” treat packaging when they realized that not all families had the same ability to use the original written notes.

Representation: Including individuals with disabilities in the creation process is crucial. Sumaira Latif, a consultant with Proctor & Gamble who is blind, did just that when she recommended small, textural bumps on the Herbal Essence hair care bottles to differentiate between shampoo and conditioner.

Authenticity: From corporate missions to incorporating the voices of those with disabilities, it’s about finding ways to elevate the overall brand experience and change the narrative. Companies need to trust people with disabilities in their own expertise, take care to listen and let them direct how they wish to be represented.


Biophilic Design

Houseplants started to gain mass appeal in 2016 and established some of the earliest plantfluencers with massive social followings. Their Insta-impact quickly evolved from prop to signifier in today’s wellness world because of their positive impact.

Plants keep our bodies and minds active, reduce sick days and absentee rates in work and boost productivity. Biophilic design incorporates elements of nature into our environments and architecture in order to facilitate that wellness. While there are grand examples of this, like the Liuzhou Forest City and Amazon Spheres, there are also smaller every day examples.

On a recent trip to buy a box of Band-Aids, I noticed sitting next to one of the brand’s designer partnership SKUs with Oh Joy, a collection of Band-Aid designs featuring tropical plants well known on Instagram. These designs are born out of a strong visual trend, but in thinking about biophilic design’s ability to promote wellness, could this SKU be doing that by way of illustration and representation? Can biophilic design become a key semiotic in health and wellness design, and have an impact on the wellness of consumers?