Why Alina Chetcuti Used Her Design Skills to Save Lives

Alina Chetcuti creates and designs for a living, but never would she have thought to use her graphic design skills to help save lives.

Chetcuti is a graphic artist in the SFPUC’s Communications Department. When she took a job with the SFPUC, she knew the utilities sector was historically a male-dominated industry. To her, it was essential that women were present and represented within the utilities industry because of the SFPUC’s mission to serve the public and to be more equitable. “In order to best serve the public, we need to understand the wants and needs of the public, which is near impossible to do by a group lacking diversity,” she shared.

Alina Chetcuti is a Graphic Artist with the SFPUC’s Communications team.

Chetcuti also understood that public service came with the responsibility to step up as a disaster service worker (DSW) during catastrophes. In her first year at the SFPUC, Chetcuti was deployed three times to support San Francisco’s COVID response at the COVID Command Center (CCC) as a graphic designer. Each deployment felt different, but the mission still had the same urgency. Her day-to-day schedule was hectic. With juggling multiple projects, getting stakeholder buy-in, and keeping track of many moving parts and deadlines, Chetcuti’s days were filled with energy and purpose.

“In my normal role as a graphic artist at the SFPUC, we usually have the benefit of time. We can really deep-dive into the fine details of a project to deliver a thoughtful end product,” explained Chetcuti. She described that the focus of the SFPUC’s graphics projects tended to be about more positive or preventative topics, such as educating the public about recycled water, how to prevent pollution, how solar power works, or the new community center in the Southeast. “At the COVID Command Center, however, every project functions to educate the public about a deadly virus. Therefore the objective’s importance is unparalleled, and projects are due as soon as possible,” she shared. “We had to be as thoughtful as possible about creating an easy-to-understand design in the shortest time possible, so that we could share important life-saving information with the public. We then move onto the next equally-important project.”

At the CCC, the graphics team was part of the Joint Information Center’s (JIC) strategic communications section. Included in the JIC was a translation unit that supported content development in Spanish, Chinese, Filipino, Russian, Arabic and Vietnamese. The graphic designers and translators worked closely together to ensure information was accessible and easy-to-understand. In addition to the text, even icons and layouts were deeply considered in designing for different audiences. “Each design was created with the community in mind,” she shared. “It reminded me how many San Francisco residents don’t speak or read English as their first language, and made me so proud to be working for a city that understands the importance of disseminating information in an equitable way. It was also about representation, showing up for community. This is something I can bring back to my work at the SFPUC.”

Alina Chetcuti with her dog Nailah.

In reflecting on how COVID had impacted her this year, Chetcuti shared that even the most careful people can get sick. Besides essential tasks like going to the grocery store and walking the dog, she had not seen anyone outside her household very much. One Saturday morning, Chetcuti woke up with a fever and a headache, so she scheduled a COVID test that day. She had a 103.7 fever that night, and she was almost certain it was COVID-19. “This really shocked me because I had been following the rules so well. Washing my hands, sanitizing everything that got cross contaminated, wiping down groceries and takeout containers, and always wearing a mask while outside,” she shared. “I hadn’t visited anyone for weeks, yet I still got sick. Luckily, my COVID test came back negative, but the advice nurse was stumped because the flu wasn’t around much this year and COVID was more contagious than most other sicknesses. If I was being that careful, how did I get sick?” Chetcuti was reminded how important it was for everyone to follow the guidelines. She knew not everyone was as lucky, and how this experience taught her more empathy toward communities that were heavily impacted. “After getting sick, I was even more motivated to do this work encouraging the public to wear their masks and wash their hands, because it really is a group effort to slow the spread.”

As Chetcuti reflects on Women’s History Month, she shared how fortunate she is to be living in a time where women are treated with much more respect than they were in the past, especially in the utilities industry. “Women’s History Month represents the struggles that so many women and allies before me faced to get to where we are today. I take this time to look back and thank those people for their hard work that has made such a difference in our lives today.”

For Chetcuti, a woman’s place is wherever she wants to be, especially at all levels and roles in public service. “I am so grateful for this experience of designing important content for the COVID Command Center and San Francisco’s path toward recovery,” she said. “I am honored to have been a small part of something so important, and am proud to do so representing the SFPUC. This is a crazy point in time, and we all have a part to play in it — let’s be proud of the actions we took to bring this pandemic to an end.”