The Harmony of Dental and Design

Graphic Designer

by Elizabeth Lavis


25 Jul 2023

Gold in Typography for Graphic Design 2020
“Working as a dentist, I definitely feel that it’s helped me develop that deeper understanding of people and funnily enough how to design for people” 

During half of her time, Anna Dai is the cofounder, designer and account manager at Melbourne-based Heapssmall, a small agency composed of a trio of creative, curious, changemakers. The other side of her working life is spent giving people Hollywood worthy smiles as a dentist.

“I graduated from Melbourne Dental School about seven years ago,” Dai says. “During my years of working as a dentist I developed a real appreciation for the aesthetic side of dentistry; things like looking at smile design, golden ratios of teeth, balance between different shapes of teeth and the surrounding structure, and how hue, chroma, and value can make such a huge difference to a person’s overall appearance.” The fundamental principles of dentistry wound up being highly applicable in the design world. “I use these transferable skills and knowledge day in and day out in design,” she says.

It wasn’t just the aesthetics that transferred over, it was the strategy she developed when coming up with complex treatment plans for dental patients. “I’ve actually found that there’s a lot of crossover between the two industries and often I find myself using design thinking principles to tackle dental problems and vice versa.” 

Brunswick Block Party

At the core of Dai’s work, both in dental and design, is compassion. “I think it’s the basic foundation of empathy, of really understanding people, what drives us, what our needs are, and what we feel and why,” Dai says. “Working as a dentist, I definitely feel that it’s helped me develop that deeper understanding of people, and funnily enough, how to design for people.” 

Dai describes her design process as “chaos, then order, then more chaos and a bit more order.” She explains that she starts with comprehensive research to fully grasp the scope of the brief, desired audience, and goals. Then she brainstorms ideas and associations before narrowing them down to develop a mood board or cohesive direction for the initial design. “Sometimes it’s just a messy cycle of going between ideation, looking for inspiration, trial and error, binning ideas, and pushing ideas or designs to find the most creative solution to tackle the problem,” she says.

Dai loves the ability and flexibility that working as a designer gives her, but she truly cherishes the camaraderie and inspiration that comes from being part of the group at Heapssmalls. “What I enjoy most is being able to work together with a team of super fun, talented and creative people, bouncing ideas off each other and meeting lots of cool people, businesses and brands along the way,” she says.

Dai is proudest of a piece borne out of COVID-19 closures, and the desire to help people stay creative during the lockdowns. “Essentially the idea came out when all the kilns had to shut up shop in Melbourne,” she says. “A friend and I had planned to have a pottery session, but it looked like that wasn’t going to happen. We soon realized that a lot of people were in the same boat, so we decided to make these DIY air-dry clay kits that you could do at home and didn’t have to fire in a kiln.” Sunday & Clay’s objective was to bring joy back and help people keep up with their hobbies. “My friend Cindy, who is also a graphic designer, and I combined forces and designed the product, packaging, and branding from start to finish. We launched it just shy of December last year,” Dai says. 

Dai’s professional and personal goals include growing her agency business and continuing to fuse her passions to make an impact on the world. “It would be cool to see Heapssmall grow to become Heapsbig and be able to design for more companies and brands that are putting more good into the world,” she says. “Another goal is trying to find new ways of bridging design, business, and healthcare to create big changes for the better.”

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