Kristin Hughes

Kristin Hughes

Associate Professor

Kristin Hughes is a designer and educator whose innovative work in healthcare 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 research process, thus allowing every participant to share his or her own expertise, to participate in decision making, and ultimately, to help design solutions to typical daily problems, both large and small.

Latest project can be found at

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 Doha, Qatar, Beijing and Wuxi, China. In addition to her design practice, Kristin currently serves on the advisory boards of Propel Schools, Green Our Planet, and Let’s Move Pittsburgh. Kristin holds a BA from Syracuse University and an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her other interests include gardening, adventure travel, cycling, skiing and art.


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.

Mcgaffey, Ann, K. Hughes, S. Fidler, F. D’Amico. “Can Elvis Pretzley and the Fitwits Improve Knowledge of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise, and Portions in Fifth Graders? Journal of Pediatrics. May 2009. International Journal of Obesity (Lond) 2010; 34(7): 1134-42.
Hughes, Kristin. “Making, Co-creating and Testing Games: Learning about Nutrition through Play – Fitwits,” Published in the conference proceedings for FLUX: Design Education in a Changing World. Capetown, South Africa. October 2007.

Hughes, Kristin. “Design to Promote Agency and Self-Efficacy through Educational Games.” in the book Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Girls and Games. Edited by in Y. Kafai, C. Heeter, J. Denner, and J. Sun (eds.) page 231-pg 246. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. March 2008.