• Ali Harrison

How Graphic Design is Fighting Back Against COVID-19

Just like you, I’ve been working my way through this new normal.

As I was reading some stuff online the other day, I was reminded of a very important fact that won’t change, no matter how much the world does: for centuries, the way that we process information, news and announcements has been shaped by design. In times of great crisis, art, design and visual messaging take on new and important roles.

Many categorize the COVID-19 epidemic as a war. Unlike a physical conflict, it’s difficult to know what role you can play. Yet as we all know by now – if you’ve watched the news as much as I have – for so many of us, our role is to flatten the curve.

Beyond that, what can we do to help? Well when it comes to artists, it turns out, we can do plenty.

Visual communication is the answer.

Visual communication has always been key to conveying messages. The solution for some brands has been to create art and advertising that encourages social distancing.

Coca-Cola has placed an ad in Times Square showing their logo distancing itself, along with the message “Staying apart is the best way to stay connected.” It’s really poignant – and ironic – because Times Square is normally one of the most traffic-filled places on Earth. Similarly, McDonald’s created a logo in Brazil, which featured its iconic Golden Arches sliding apart to symbolize social distancing, while brands like Audi, Nike, and Volkswagen have also released altered versions of their logos.

A worldwide call to creatives.

Remember those World War II posters, like “Keep Calm” and “We Can Do It”?

This “war” gives designers a new opportunity to create pieces with the same power and ability to change lives. Public health messaging must now be able to speak to people all across the globe, with every language and to every culture, all with one aim. It’s up to all of us to effectively prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

One example of this is the United Nations and World Health Organization's Global Call Out To Creatives. This effort asks the worldwide design community to transform “critical public health messages into work that will engage and inform people across different cultures, languages, communities and platforms.” Translation: it's up to amazing designers to get the word out in the strongest way possible. I believe that creativity can change the world. After all, it’s changed my world so many times and allowed me to discover a voice that I didn’t know that I possessed.

graphic designer work from home home office

Where does design fit into your life?

Think about the design symbols that we take for granted every day. From the basics like traffic signage, to things we take for granted like nutrition labels, credit card statements and even the recipes on the side of packaged goods. Everything needs to be designed. Just think – every logo on every product in your fridge was designed by someone. The plastic coating on the batteries you swapped out the other day in your TV remote were designed by someone. Even the drivers license you dread waiting at the DMV to get renewed was laid out and designed by a graphic designer.

In high-stress times like this, the simpler and more functional a design can be – particularly when it comes to imparting information — the better it is.

Look for the helpers

Another source of comfort at this time has been a Mister Rogers quote that I love. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” The quote is meant to shift focus from the negative to the positive in situations, and to showcase where there is hope. Just as it says, many of the companies – whose tools that I and many other graphic designers have come to rely on – have become helpers in this time of great need.

Adobe, whose Creative Cloud products including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and others, are used by a big part of the design world, has given students free personal in-home licenses, made changes to help their Enterprise level customers, and made Adobe Summit fully digital.

Apple has extended free licenses to their Logic and Final Cut Pro programs to 90 days, while promising to continue paying their employees and matching their coronavirus relief donations two-to-one.

Affinity, the makers of Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo, and Affinity Publisher who provide an alternative to the Adobe products, have extended free trials of their programs from 30 days to 3 months. Additionally, they’re discounting all of their products by 50% and are spending their entire 2020 freelance budget over the next three months, engaging the services of over a hundred creatives.

Finally, so many people are concentrating on bettering themselves while quarantined. The PPA (Professional Photographers of America) has answered this need by making its 1,100+ classes completely free for the next few weeks.

While artists aren’t on the same frontlines as doctors and nurses, we all have a part to play in sharing and spreading the right information to help save lives. We also have an even greater responsibility: to use our art to continually inspire others.

In a time of great change, as I said earlier, one thing holds true: When a message must be communicated, it will always need great design to tell the tale.