Rethinking Healthcare + Design for Blue Shield of California

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The passage of the Affordable Care Act meant more than expanded health coverage for citizens: It meant healthcare and insurance providers had to do some serious scrambling to meet the new standards and re-establish their business in the changing landscape.

There are plenty of new customers out there for them now, sure. But how to reach these customers—and how to make a complicated and oftentimes alienating industry accessible to them—posed an entirely separate question. It’s a question that Blue Shield of California (BSCA), a not-for-profit health plan with the mission of quality, affordable coverage for all Californians, took seriously.

Hub Strategy “Reforms” Print Collateral for Blue Shield of California (BSCA)

So BSCA called in the pros at Hub Strategy, a San Francisco–based branding and design firm, to overhaul the design of their print enrollment collateral—that first package of (overwhelming) paperwork explaining what they offer. The goal: less to overwhelm, more to engage. Which, when you look at just how much information they’re required by law and by nature of the business to include, is not such an easy task.

Blue Shield of California

Hub Strategy Redesigns Print Collateral for Blue Shield of California (BSCA)

“It was a serious revamp as so much had changed with healthcare reform. We wanted to make sure that the fun and light personality that was in everything else we had done for them remained throughout this piece,” says Peter Judd, creative director at Hub Strategy. “Health enrollment packs are some of the most bland looking and often confusing pieces of communication that exist. Many employers offer a choice in coverage for their employees and we wanted to make sure our enrollment info really felt different and called attention to itself over the competition.”

BSCA’s previous print collateral was ordinary and expected, with banner headlines and grids of stock photos. But Hub Strategy had done digital and television work for the group before, and knew they would be open to a more innovative, novel approach. “We knew they had that kind of sensibility, and used it as our leaping off point,” says Rothman.

Blue Shield of California

“The timing and opportunity to rethink communications was perfect [due to healthcare reform],” says Julie Norris, Director of Creative Marketing and Delivery at BSCA, who led the campaign from the client side. “We needed to rapidly move BSCA from strictly business-to-business communications to business-to-consumer as well. This included a comprehensive marketing mix of print, digital, social and the necessary analytics to measure results and evolve the design.”

“We initially presented them with two directions, both of which really leaned onto the idea of navigation, of BSCA helping to lead your way through this logistical nightmare of healthcare reform,” says Jason Rothman, associate creative director at Hub Strategy, who led the project. “The one they chose was this idea of a road trip up and down California as you go through the pages, with a blue road and their shield as signage. That was the higher-level concept. From there, we got the content from them, made it more approachable from a writing standpoint, and worked from the illustration side to tie it all together.”

“We made the text as approachable as possible, and definitely used design to help do that. Some things have to be said as they are and we had to include certain charts, but we could give it personality and make it more streamlined. It was a pretty big design feat to take these massive charts they gave us and make them easily digestible and nice looking,” says Rothman.

Blue Shield of California

Design as Storytelling in Blue Shield of California’s Health Enrollment Materials

As they developed the layout and illustrations, primary consideration went to what made sense with the content and also developed the road trip storyline. “We knew we wanted it to be toned blue. We also knew we wanted to play in the illustration world. That automatically gave us freedom to have a lot more fun and create a lot more original artwork across the pages—and it kept us away from cheesy stock photography,” says Rothman.

“When you see it in the mail, or when you see it handed to you, the last thing it looks like is something from an insurance company. It’s like, What’s this all about? What the hell’s the narwhal? What are these things everywhere? It’s fun, and while there are still a lot of charts and graphs, I really think this thing does make you smile, and you feel something about the brand that you normally wouldn’t feel about an insurance provider,” says Judd.

Blue Shield of California

The internal design group at BSCA has been a strong collaborator along the way, and now incorporates the new design into everything they are putting out. “It has been nice to see this level of detail of illustration make it into so much stuff,” says Judd. “Jason wanted to add dimension and texture to some flat vector work they had been doing, to make it more storytelling, to add layers.”

A Healthy New Look: Good Design, Meet Healthcare Reform

The goal of the collateral was to reach more customers—specifically families and individuals who had gone without healthcare—and metrics seem to say it was a huge success. “The redesign was rolled out in October 2013 and was refined in February 2014. The market share of all plans has increased for BSCA, the highest being consumer-based plans with an increase to 30% market share from 16% last year. BSCA is number two in California for signing up customers during open enrollment of the Affordable Care Act, and from this it can be determined that we have the same ranking in the US,” according to Norris.

Blue Shield of CA

“The goal was to make it approachable and also to make a healthcare collateral package like you haven’t seen, one that’s unexpected,” says Rothman. “We don’t try to do anything middle of the road.”


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