PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — From designing for Fortune 500 companies to empowering college students to invest in their communities, a local woman said design can provide solutions.

“Design can create solutions to things we often don’t foresee,” said Heather Ford. “It’s a great way to heal, and it’s a great way for people to get together who often don’t speak to each other as well.”

Professionally, Ford’s a user experience design program head and lead instructor at Bradley University. All the while, she’s created work for Fortune 500 companies.

“Recently, I’ve been doing work with NASA with the students,” said Ford, “I’ve worked with Nike and Home Depot over the years, [and] Disney for a little bit as well.”

Ford said she also encourages her student to be invested in the success of local communities.

“What I really love is I let my students know how they can help. So, we created a kiosk for OSF Healthcare last year that is going to be going in mobile hygiene units that will go into the shelters that allow for those in need to use the kiosk or an iPad to receive help. My students had to interview those who were in need. Some of my students are right now even spending time in the community, following up with people who might be going to the encampments, so they can kind of get a feeling and sense for really who they’re designing for. It really opens their eyes to the empathy of how they can help too. So it’s not just thinking of myself of how I can help others… it’s how the people that I teach help as well.”

Heather Ford

Personally, she advocates for safe housing for those who are unsheltered.

“I have my own personal history in my family with coming out of poverty,” said Ford. “I think having that personal connection made me realize how important it is and that homelessness and people who are in need is often something you can’t see.”

She collaborated with Phoenix Community Development Services and the community to bring a mural to New Hope Apartments in downtown Peoria.

“One of the things maybe people don’t know about the mural is we interviewed those who live in the New Hope Apartments and asked them what they wanted it to be,” said Ford. “They said they wanted the Illinois River. They wanted people connecting. They wanted home. They wanted nature [and] bright colors. So that mural you see is actually what the community asked for.”

Ford also received the 2021 Heart Of Illinois United Way’s “Hoot Gibson” Award. The agency recognized her volunteerism and dedication to Home For All Continuum of Care.

In April, Ford will display an exhibition titled Transcending Moments at Bradley University’s Gallery. It’ll be up all month for viewing.

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