Spreading PKD Awareness Through Design

Published on March 23, 2021 | After a PKD diagnosis, there’s often a lot of questions. How do I stay healthy? Should I change my diet? How do I talk about PKD with others? Using graphic design, Chelsie Tamms is spreading PKD awareness in the hopes of making navigating the disease easier for others. 

Girl with IPad working on logo design.

Can you tell us about your connection to PKD?

Chelsie: My dad’s side of the family is heavily affected by PKD. My grandma had it and received a transplant from my dad’s cousin when I was young. I have a few memories of her doing dialysis from home prior to her transplant. My dad, his brother, and his male cousins are all affected by PKD. Many have had transplants and now their daughters have PKD as well. Because of this strong family history, I’m very familiar with PKD. Although I wasn’t officially diagnosed until September 2019.


How did you get involved with the PKD Foundation?

Chelsie: Once I was diagnosed with PKD, I began to conceptualize a fun, personal project to both help me navigate eating a healthier, renal-friendly diet as well as using my design skills to support the cause that’s so close to my family. Cool Beans grew into an entire restaurant concept around a renal diet, complete with a dietitian-approved menu that I designed to fit the creative concept. I got in touch with the PKD Foundation to share this work and see if there were any ways we could collaborate to have an even greater impact on our mutual goals of raising awareness for kidney disease.


How long have you been working in graphic design?

Chelsie: I started my own business, Lettering Works, after graduating from college in 2016. I won $10,000 in startup funding from Bradley University. This helped me make the decision to pursue my own design studio after graduating instead of working at an advertising agency. I’ve known I wanted to be a graphic designer since my sophomore year of high school when I took my first graphics class and was introduced to the world of advertising.


What made you decide to use your graphic design skills to spread awareness of PKD? What inspired your designs?

Chelsie: While PKD has always been close to my family, it wasn’t until I had to navigate my own health issues with PKD that I was inspired to put my graphic design skills to use to raise awareness for kidney disease. The frustrations I experienced as I navigated healthy food options pushed me to make this necessary “research” project more fun for myself. Since I’m so familiar with doing research for client projects as part of my creative process, I decided to connect research into what I really loved doing—branding and design.


Restaurant menu design.


I hired a local dietitian to write the menu. Next, I created a brand and lots of supporting illustrations, graphics, and creative collateral to support the concept and raise awareness for kidney disease in an unconventional way. Many of the designs are inspired by puns and approach kidney disease in a playful and uplifting tone.

Are you working on anything?

Chelsie: I created Cool Beans in March 2020, right before the pandemic hit. The pandemic halted many of the meetings and partnership opportunities I had lined up. I started to revisit these partnerships in early 2021 as National Kidney Month approached. I’ve also started to reconnect and create new opportunities and avenues for the project.

Currently, I’m working with the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois to rebrand one of their educational programs. I have some other exciting ideas in the works as well.


Are there any other ways you like to raise PKD awareness?

Chelsie: One of my goals with Cool Beans is to empower other kidney patients and living donors to share their stories and advocate for the cause. It can be uncomfortable or difficult to share some of this information, which is one of the reasons I created a small line of kidney-inspired stickers. My hope with these is that living donors and those living with kidney disease are able to display these with pride (on items such as water bottles and laptops) and start genuine conversations about their experiences. I think some of the best advocates for living organ donation are those who have chosen to donate themselves.

I have another idea to create a “One Bean Club” pillow that matches my existing sticker design. This could be given to living kidney donors in the hospital post-transplant. I’d love to partner with different educational and advocacy organizations as well as nephrology programs at hospitals to bring this idea to life. It’ll be a great way to thank those who generously gift a second chance to someone waiting for a life-saving transplant. The waiting lists for kidney transplants are so long in most states. We need more healthy, willing individuals to step up and donate.


How can others interested in raising PKD awareness get involved?

Chelsie: If anyone is interested in learning more about the Cool Beans project, visit letteringworks.com/coolbeans. Currently, I’m looking for additional kidney disease advocate partners and collaborators interested in making a greater impact by using my designs for the cause. If you or someone you know is interested in working together, you can reach out to me at hello@letteringworks.com.


Ready to start raising awareness too? Visit the Foundation’s National Kidney Month page to see how you can promote PKD awareness all month long!


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