Kellye Sanford


At The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, I’m one of more than 22,000 employees focused on one goal: to end cancer. The institution is one of the world’s most respected centers dedicated to cancer patient care, research, education and prevention. U.S. News & World Report ranks it the nation’s No. 1 hospital for cancer care (2022-2023) in its annual “best hospitals” survey. MD Anderson is also one of the country’s original three comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute.

I’m privileged to lead a small and highly skilled design, animation and medical illustration team — one of five teams in the Creative department of Strategic Communications. Our work supports the organization’s communications and marketing efforts, as well as divisions and faculty throughout the institution. It advances all of MD Anderson’s mission areas.

I’m honored to have work recognized by the Society for News Design, Associated Press Managing Editors, National Association of Black Journalists, Public Relations Society of America and others.

Tell us how and why you became involved in socially responsible communications, any thoughts on why design can be an especially effective tool for this goal, and, if you wish, give us an example of a project of which you are proud.

I started my career in advertising design and illustration but quickly transitioned to visual journalism and the newsroom. At a major metropolitan news organization I thrived on designing and illustrating features and lifestyle stories, styling and directing photos for fashion, food, and the arts. As a side business I designed books for university presses and helped non-profits self-publish. Board service with arts organizations gave me the chance to give back to Houston’s diverse fine arts community. But my design work on hard news stories — global conflict, government, technology and scientific discovery — is where I felt my efforts had the most meaningful impact in telling stories with the power to prompt action.

One of our special news reports was about breakthroughs in genetics and resulting advances in health care. MD Anderson was central to those stories. I don’t know if I was more influenced by working on that project design or by the exceptional patient care more than one member of my family had received there. But somewhere along the way, I decided if I ever left journalism, I would work at MD Anderson. An opportune call from a former colleague employed there encouraged my move.

The work at MD Anderson has the power to transform lives of individuals, of communities, and of the world. It’s humbling to work with the caring clinicians and brilliant scientific minds confronting some of health care’s most daunting challenges.

One of my recent flagship projects was designing the visual identity and advertising campaign for the launch of MD Anderson’s new global immunotherapy research and innovation hub. Named for our Nobel laureate and world-renowned researcher, the James P. Allison Institute will advance discovery and clinical research to integrate immunobiology across disciplines, to bring the benefits of this novel therapy to more cancer patients.

Given the confluence of events and challenges our society now faces, does this moment in time present any special opportunities, urgencies, obstacles to designing for good?

Events the last few years have dramatically highlighted the importance of reliable, accurate information on which we, as individuals and as a country, base our decisions. Design is an essential tool in clearly and accurately communicating critical health care information — to guide patients when they are most vulnerable, to prevent disease in our communities, and to advance research findings across the globe.

Ongoing conflict and polarization have eroded our trust in each other and our ability to face challenges together. Responsible truth-based design can remind us of our common bonds and reestablish the trust necessary to tackle our world’s most difficult issues in building a healthier and more sustainable future.