Socio-Ecological Design


Information Hotspots 
Socio-Ecological Design


Interaction Design
Artifact Design


Student projects
Teaching Philosophy

The surge in obesity in the United States is a major public health crisis for children, parents, families, communities, and the future of the nation. Obese children are at risk of living shorter lives than their parents; obese parents risk often preventable health complications (e.g., type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer). Obesity is associated with environments that promote increased food intake, unhealthy foods, and physical inactivity. Socio-ecological design deals with broad societal problems, such as obesity or other chronic diseases that require an encompassing approach. A broad theoretical perspective helps designers to grasp the boundaries of the design problem and strategic design opportunities.

The term socio-ecological design is new to designers, even though, socio-ecological perspective is often used in public health research. It provides designers a theoretical framework to frame design opportunities and propose integrated systems level solutions. From such a perspective, there are five contexts or levels that are associated with socio-ecological aspects of people’s health: individual context, interpersonal context, organizational context, community context, and public policy context. At the individual level, choices may be based in people’s attitude, values, and intentions. At the interpersonal level, people’s choices may be influenced by relationships (e.g. family, friends, peers, and co-workers). At the organizational level, people’s choices may be affected by rules, policies, procedures, and incentives in organizations (e.g., schools, family support centers, and family health clinics). At the community level, people’s choices may reflect social norms, social networks, standards and practices. Finally, at the public policy level, people’s choices may be linked to government policies, regulations and laws at many levels (i.e., local, state, and federal).

I posit that socio-ecological design is useful to organize and strategize concerted design action for societal scale problems such as obesity prevention. I am exploring the theoretical implications of socio-ecological design with Kristin Hughes on the Fitwits research project in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University. 

Related publications

Hughes, K., Scupelli, P.,  Fidler, S., & McGaffey, A. (2010) Think, Make, Evaluate, (Evolve) : Designing participatory tools to better understand how to help physicians communicate with families about obesity. A case study in sustainable co-design. Challenges and Opportunities for Design Research, Education and Practice in the XXI Century. LeNS Conference, Bangalore, 29th September to 1st October 2010.

Unpublished manuscripts

Scupelli, P. & Hughes, K. (2010) Get Fit with the Fitwits: Co-design linked to increased participation in health literacy game.

Hughes, K., & Scupelli, P., (2011) Emerge, disseminate, evolve: Three phases to sustainable co-design.

Scupelli, P. (2011) Get Fit with the Fitwits: A Six-Week Community Game Evaluated. Heinz Endowments evaluation report.

Scupelli, P. (2011) I AM Fitwits: an evaluation of a school-based obesity prevention game. Heinz Endowments evaluation report.


Copyright 2010 Peter Scupelli, PhD.