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01.18.23 • By Rusty Cook

Illustrating culturally competent care through the Oscar brand lens

If you’ve been following along, you know illustration is core to the Oscar brand.

Back in 2020, we collaborated with the very talented team at Franklyn to develop our current illustration style. Our vibrantly humanistic, hand-drawn style was designed to resonate with our members while envisioning a more empathetic and joyful world of healthcare.

Brand building isn’t a one-and-done endeavor though — it requires continual care and attention. So, a few months ago we took a look at our illustration library with fresh eyes and identified opportunities to expand it. High on our list of priorities was representing culturally competent care. 

Wait, what’s culturally competent care?

We admit the terminology is a bit of a mouthful, but its meaning gets to the core of what Oscar is all about. Since our founding, we’ve been working to improve healthcare – for everyone. And that includes increasing access to quality care for communities that are marginalized, discriminated, or simply underserved.

Culturally competent care means providing care to patients with diverse values, beliefs and behaviors, including tailoring delivery to meet patients’ social, cultural, and linguistic needs.

Put simply, it means meeting our members where they are.

Oscar strives to reduce systemic barriers in a myriad of ways, but one key way lies within our diverse provider network. Our Care Team is always at-the-ready to help members find a doctor that speaks their language – literally and figuratively; who understands them in the ways that matter to them.

Visualizing diversity

Regardless of the medium, brand builders are storytellers. Oscar’s Brand Team is in the unique position to reflect the world as we see it. That world is culture-rich, full of individuals with layered and nuanced identities. Our members come from all walks of life. They are young, old, and in-between. They speak English, Spanish, and a bunch of other languages, too. Some are living for the moment, some are dedicated to maintaining their health for the long game, and others are doing their best to manage multiple chronic conditions.

We want all of our members (and potential members!) to see reflections of themselves in Oscar’s work. And to feel respected and empowered by those depictions.

Oscar’s illustration style is designed to feel warm and natural. Our characters are always drawn with realistic physical proportions and natural skin tones. We wanted to maintain that commitment to authenticity, but bring even more thoughtful intention to it as we expanded our library to include more holistic representations of race, ethnicity, gender, age, ability and body type.

To do this work well requires humility, curiosity, and a willingness to challenge our own conscious and unconscious biases in order to go beyond stereotypical expectations. As we developed a scene list and built out our library with the nimble hands of Franklyn’s illustrators, we asked ourselves to consider what intentional and unintentional meanings could be derived from the smallest of details.

We asked questions like, how might we...

  • add texture to our characters’ identities through subtle cultural signifiers?

  • subvert gender expectations by taking a gender-agnostic approach to care activities?

  • counter stereotypes around disability and body type?

  • visualize a balanced distribution of power amongst providers and patients?

  • depict all characters as comfortable and confident in their sense of self?

We considered not just who we depicted, but how we depicted them. When people feel safe, secure and seen, they let their guard down, and this can be conveyed through their physicality. We paid special attention to open body language, purposeful line of sight, and physical interaction with others to show this.

Illustrating the world of healthcare that we want to see

While we strive to make healthcare more inclusive, it’s also our charge to make it more joyful.

We believe that everything we create must be clear, caring and credible — to help our audience navigate the too-often cold and confusing healthcare system. But whenever appropriate, we want our communication to also be witty, surprising, and clever — to make our members smile when they least expect it.

We applied this lens to the task of visualizing culturally competent care, developing two categories of illustrated scenes: realistic and metaphoric. All scenes needed to convey warmth and accessibility, but the latter dialed up the delight.

Our realistic scenes are grounded in true-to-life moments, showing members feeling comfortable, empowered, and supported by providers and Oscar Care Guides as they lead healthy lives. These illustrations prioritize relatability with just a dash of wit. (A house cat can do downward dog, too!)

In our metaphoric scenes, we looked for opportunities to go beyond the expected, crafting illustrations that take a more playful approach to depicting Oscar’s role in our members’ lives. (Sure, our Care Team doesn’t actually live inside a first aid kit, but they’re so resourceful it may feel like it!)

As we’ve begun to put our new illustrations to use, our hope is that our audience feels seen, cared for and celebrated by Oscar. And that together we are making a healthier life more attainable for more people. 

This work was shaped by many hands and minds.

High fives to Veronica Cordi, Craig Damrauer, Libby Denault, and Topher Lorette on the Oscar Brand team.

And big thanks to Tess Havas, Nat Thomas, and Ashley Van Belle at Franklyn.

©2022 Oscar Health


©2022 Oscar Health