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Abstract illustration showing a crosshatch pattern used in the Presidential COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force final report and recommendations.

Forging New Pathways to Health Equity

Coforma bolstered the Presidential COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force staff’s effort to evaluate social and health disparities and synthesize recommendations to advance health equity in communities of color and underserved populations.

The Challenge

US Department of Health and Human Services, Presidential COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force
Delivery Date:
November 30, 2021

The Presidential COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force was asked to provide recommendations addressing the social and health disparities that have resulted in disproportionately higher rates of complications related to COVID-19.

In January 2021, President Biden and Vice President Harris established the Presidential COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force via Executive Order 13995 to “provide recommendations for addressing health inequities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and for preventing such inequities in the future.”

The pandemic amplified the systemic, widespread social and health inequities in the US. While all Americans were affected, communities of color and underserved populations were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The Task Force was given the opportunity to form a response to effectively address and disrupt these long-established inequities and to prevent them for generations to come.

Coforma supported the Task Force staff’s efforts with human-centered design (HCD) and research. Our approach enabled Task Force members to evaluate and synthesize numerous levels of information and layers of data within the rapidly changing government and health ecosystems, with a goal of delivering cohesive, enduring recommendations founded on a health-justice-in-all-policies approach.

. . . COVID-19 has laid bare what has been the reality for so many in our country, who over generations have been minoritized and marginalized and medically underserved, and the pandemic took advantage of the legacy of intentional policies that have structurally disadvantaged communities over time.
COVID-19 Health Equity Task ForceMember

Our Approach

We streamlined the distillation process as well as the development and validation of ideas, then worked collaboratively to connect the dots across silos and co-create prioritized recommendations to mitigate and prevent social and health inequities.

With the pandemic in full swing and Task Force members located across the nation, we leveraged our experience as a distributed, agile workforce, utilizing a suite of digital tools and people-centered practices to work closely with our collaborators and drive problem-solving discussions around systemic inequities amongst Task Force members.

To support progress within a tight timeframe, and in a dynamic, non-linear environment, our team applied a process-agnostic framework that took into account government ecosystem complexities. Coupled with collaborative sprints, this approach facilitated opportunities for the Task Force members to hear directly from communities, users, and subject-matter experts, helping them to connect the dots across their committees’ workstreams to identify the most impactful, relevant, and lasting recommendations.

A vertical diagram of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force process

A vertical diagram of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force process.

The purple and yellow cover of a report titled Presidential COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force is displayed at a 30 degree angle on a dark purple background.
Three pages from the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force's human-centered design report are seen stacked diagonally from top left to bottom right.

Pages from the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force's human-centered design report, Final Report and Implementation Plan.

A Shared Human-Centered Experience and Report

In just seven months, we provided human-centered design and research experience, collaborating and co-creating with our collaborators and the Task Force members to deliver an HCD Final Report and Recommendations, as well as an Implementation Plan and Accountability Framework. To help socialize the Final Report and Implementation Plan, our team also presented tailored templates that met accessibility and brand standards for communications and social media.

Two sections are seen from the HETF report — one shows four icons made of abstract patterns and the other shows an excerpt titled case for change.

Inclusive design is human-centered design. The use of patterns instead pictograms ensures people with all ranges of vision connect with meaning of the four main outcomes.

Designing for Accessibility

Inclusive design was forefront in the creation of the Presidential COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Final Report and Proposed Recommendations and Proposed Implementation Plan and Accountability Framework. It was important that the design reflect the principles of these documents—collaboration, inclusivity, and accessibility. Together with the HHS accessibility team, we conducted a successful accessibility remediation of both the Final Report and the Implementation Plan.

The Final Report prioritized 55 recommendations, organized via four main outcomes: Communications and Collaboration; Data Analytics and Research; Structural Drivers and Xenophobia; and Health Care Access and Quality. To represent these critical outcomes, we purposely created patterns instead of pictograms, differentiable for those with low vision, all visually distinct from each other, and designed to convey an emotion.

Icons grouping by SC/Outcome (RGP)

Communications and Collaboration (C&C): arrows pointing in same direction indicating alignment and movement in the same direction; Data, Analytics, and Research (DAR): dots and lines resemble data points, charts, code; Structural Drivers and Xenophobia (SDX): spacing of the lines conveys tension, X pattern subtly indicates exclusion or "no"; Health Care Access and Quality (HAQ): plus signs resemble medical symbols; representing adding care and equal access with even spacing throughout.

Social media templates, color palettes, patterns, and social media templates are shown — mostly made up of light yellows, deep greens and purples, and soft orange and yellow tones.

From color palette, patterns, and social media templates, human-centered design is baked into everything we do.

Socialization Tools

From the Final Report and Implementation Plan to the social media templates, we created visual icons and brand elements that framed and accentuated the messaging and content. Our team put together a color palette with accessible contrast and legible font pairing, while ensuring all components met the style standards as set in the US Government Publishing Office style manual.

An excerpt titled Recommendations is shown on a deep purple background with a block of paragraph copy.

The final numbers for this work are not in as it's an ongoing pandemic crisis.

Practical Recommendations

Within two months of delivery, President Joe Biden took action on more than 80% of the proposed recommendations presented.

Project Team

  • AshleighAshleigh AxiosProject Sponsor & Lead
  • KimKim FriedmanDesign Researcher & Facilitator
  • MicheleMichele WashingtonDesign Researcher & Facilitator


  • Figma, Adobe Photoshop, and Illustrator for branded design

  • Adobe InDesign to create the report and implementation plan

  • Dovetail for research data synthesis

  • MURAL for affinity mapping, discussion facilitation, and theme synthesis

  • Slack and Microsoft Teams for continuous asynchronous communication

  • Microsoft Office and Teams to maintain a shared, organized folder with version control

  • Zoom for communications with collaborators, client, and interviews

  • Asana for tasks, task prioritization, and due dates


  • Human-centered design research

  • Industry standard Scrum framework for agile delivery

  • Accessible-first

  • Co-creation with collaborators

  • One-on-one user interviews (remote)