Sabrina David More Than Words

  • Tauira / Student
    Sabrina David
  • Kaiako / Lecturers
    Kim Meek, George Hajian, Phoebe Ellis
Judge's comments:

This thoughtfully designed and empathetic imagery card system captured the attention of judges who admired the quality and appropriateness of graphic resolution, as much as the purpose and intent of the resource.


Outside the busy halls of the university, my Friday mornings were dedicated to assisting at a local Intermediate school. Along with the help of local community workers, we established a weekly development programme, helping young people connect positively to achieve and master essential life skills. The development of these small group sessions was needed to help provide students with a safe space for discussion. Supporting them to communicate was a key contribution towards positive personal development.

However, we quickly found young people ‘passing’ on their turn to speak. This was until a co-worker introduced a set of homemade, laminated cards – each presenting a generic, everyday image sourced from Google: ocean waves, a pair of eyes, running shoes . . . whilst sitting in a circle, she spread out 30 cards in the middle of the floor for our tamariki to see.

She asked them to pick a card to describe how their week was going. Each student quickly dove into the middle to grab a card of their choosing. Later they were asked to explain why they had picked the card and one–by-one, each student described their weekly experience through their chosen image.

I was stunned by the sudden change. Conversations flowed a sense of energy and willingness to participate grew. While a few students remained hesitant to speak, most managed to pick a card that let us into what they think and feel. The cards provided a direct route to help better understand what we can do to further support and guide them— without these, it could be a long and unfruitful journey.

We were moved by how visual imagery motivated a shy and reserved group to bring down barriers and allow open communication with each other. These slight, yet powerful cards, could become an influential resource for teachers, counsellors, speech therapists, mentors, parents and all those dedicated to supporting the emotional and mental wellbeing of young people in Aotearoa.

Through further testing and play, the team recognised the need for these image cards to be further developed to reach young audiences more effectively.

My final-semester design outcome was transformed into a project co-developed with a team of social workers, teachers and counsellors. After months of consultation, in-depth research and development, “More than Words” came to fruition.

The set includes 100 ‘Imagery cards’, each showing a commonly-held illustration inviting a variety of associations, responses, and free interpretation. The concept grew further with the inclusion of visual material that creates a significant cultural space for users (especially those of Maori and Pasifika background) to feel represented and included.

Attention to detail was exercised from cards to packaging, to ensure a set that is both pleasing to the eye and practical for everyday use. Cut-out, block-style illustrations, paired with bold and vibrant colours, are designed to invite users of all ages.

“More than Words” card sets have also been commissioned for beta-testing and additional development to ensure an authentic and well-developed product is available for national use.