Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts


Graphic Design

First Advisor

Jamie Mahoney

Second Advisor

Roy McKelvey

Third Advisor

Derek Chapman


Through research, inquiry, and an evaluation of Recovery By Design, a ‘design therapy’ program that serves people with mental illness, substance use disorders, and developmental disabilities, it is my assertion that the practice of design has therapeutic potential and can aid in the process of recovery. To the novice, the practices of conception, shaping form, and praxis have empowering benefit especially when guided by Conditional and Transformation Design methods together with an emphasis on materiality and vernacular form.


This thesis is documented in five books combined into a single PDF. Book I covers over arching themes, framework, and the Richmond-based context of the work. It also serves as an introduction to my work. Book II explores the concept of design as therapy and discusses efforts to enhance aspects of design that promote well-being in the Recovery by Design program. Book III describes the benefits of physical tools, methods, and materials for the practice of design. It includes an essay on improvisation which outlines the history of craft in the United States including the disappearance of manual skills and the emergence of contemporary maker movements. It builds a case for all types of creativity that make use of what is at hand. Book IV situates my thesis in the context of Conditional and Transformation Design while providing a brief overview of design history. Book V is a photo essay that illustrates the content of this thesis related to the Recovery by Design program.


© Cassandra Ellison

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission