Kristin Hughes (MFA ’98)

Associate Professor
School of Design
Carnegie-Mellon University
Graduate Thesis project at VCU—Urban Violence: A Visual Voice of Hopeful Persistence

Kristin Hughes is a designer and educator whose innovative work in at-risk communities exemplifies the benefit of fusing design with community engagement to address complex social problems.

Kristin’s career in design practice and education spans more than 20 years. As an Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design, Kristin and her colleagues have developed interdisciplinary courses that blend design with informal learning, cognitive psychology, and more recently, public policy. These endeavors highlight Kristin’s personal mission: to demonstrate how design can be leveraged for social innovation and change.

Over the years, Kristin’s work has afforded her the opportunity to engage with a variety of experts from the fields of informal learning, psychology, education, health care professional, public policy and health care. The result of these collaborations is new products and services (i.e. explanatoids, Click! Urban Adventure Game, 6th Extinction In-Motion) that tackle difficult societal challenges.

One of Kristin’s major accomplishments is the creation of Fitwits, a health improvement program designed for young patients, their families and the doctors they visit. Using game design, Fitwits has character-based agents and health-inspired activities to motivate children to engage in meaningful, measurable practices that improve their health. It also provides tools—both paper and digital—that parents and doctors can use to gain insight into the health-impacting choices a child is making. The Fitwits organization is headquartered in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Kristin’s belief in community-based research led her to use it as a means to hone and refine the Fitwits program. The features and structure of Fitwits were developed over many years through trials and iterations of use various communities in Pittsburgh. Community-based research encourages community members to become active partners in the design process, thus allowing every participant to share his or her own expertise, to participate in decision making, and ultimately, to help create solutions to typical daily problems, both large and small.

Over the years she has won numerous national and international design awards and often speaks and offers hands-on workshops to educators around the world, most recently in Beijing and Wuxi, China. In addition to her design practice, Kristin currently serves on the advisory boards of Propel Schools, Green Our Planet, GTECH, and Let’s Move Pittsburgh. Kristin holds a BA from Syracuse University and an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University.



Fitwits uses games, active engagement and the power of kids’ imaginations to reduce childhood obesity. At the heart of our brand are the Fitwits and Nitwits motivational cartoon characters that resemble food items and snacks. The novelty of the Fitwits game format, stories, challenges and rewards puts players in a different mindset when contemplating healthy behavior in their lives. The solution offers caregivers greater visibility into the health-impacting decisions a child makes so they can inspire and positively encourage change.


Latham St. Commons is a five year initiative that addresses the challenges in rejuvenating a decaying urban structure now situated between the two neighborhoods (Garfield and Friendship) for common good. This unique partnership between the Carnegie Mellon University School of Design, School of Architecture, and Heinz College of Public Policy highlights the competitive advantage of interdisciplinary research and practice. At the heart of the Commons is a sustainable, self-sufficient local food system that acts as catalyst for new types of social enterprises, shared community health services and opportunities for urban innovation. See more.


Catalog spreads for magazine: School of Art, Carnegie Mellon University.


Poster created for the School of Drama Carnegie Mellon.

Recent Publications

  • Hughes, Kristin, and Peter Scupelli, “Collaborative Design Strategies: Helping to Change the Practice of Care.” Public & Collaborative: Exploring the Intersection of Design, Social Innovation and Public Policy, DESIS Network Press, New York, August, 2013.
  • Wislo, VMP, McGaffey A, Scopaz KA, D’Amico FJ, Jewell IK, Bridges MW, Hogan L, Hughes K. “Fitwits: Preparing Residency-based Physicians to Discuss Childhood Obesity with Preteens.” Clinical Pediatrics.  First published June, 2013 doi:10.1177/0009922813492012.
  • McGaffey, Ann, Abatemarco D, Jewell I, Fidler s, Hughes, K, “Fitwits MD™: An Office-Based Tool and Games for Conversations about Obesity with 9-12 Year old Children.” Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine November-December 2011; 24(6):768-71.

What mattered about the MFA in Design, Visual Communications
The MFA program program gave me time to nurture and align my heart, head and hands.