Graphic Design for the Greater Good
Throughout history, design has played a critical role in communicating messages to the public in times of uncertainty or crisis. To be sure, the dissemination of information through visual means has been one of the most effective and efficient ways to relay messages quickly in modern human history. In today’s uncertain climate of the COVID-19 crisis, designers continue their work at the forefront of many social, political and public health campaigns. The impact of their work, however, goes beyond visual communication of important health and safety information. Designers can also do a great deal to improve lives by reassuring a panicked public and unifying and inspiring to action a community or an organization gripped by fear and mistrust.
The power of visual communication cannot be overstated as one of the most effective ways to persuade, reassure and inform. People are visual by nature, and studies confirm that we are wired to process visual information much faster in the brain than text. Therefore, getting a point across quickly is a significant benefit when it comes to communicating essential information clearly and effectively. Moreover, people are much more likely to remember information when it is accompanied by or presented as images. Drawing on training, talent and experience, a designer works intuitively to craft the optics that best represent the messaging they are asked to convey. In addition, a designer is responsible for crafting visuals that connect with a wide range of audience, including organizations that support others, and in turn, rely on member support in times of need.
While designers continue the vital work of visually communicating crucial information via data visualization, timely graphics, artwork and typography to the public in the service of public health, many are also involved in designing with the purpose of allaying fears and dispelling panic. In the nonprofit sector, for example, this is an especially critical and sensitive time. Organizations must navigate the needs of their supporters while balancing the realities of their own livelihoods. In response, some charities have decided to express reassurance and to communicate gratitude and unity. They are reaching out to their donors with messages of gratitude, hope and strength through social media channels, email campaigns, website graphics and print media. Working with designers, they ensure that these hopeful messages reach their intended audience with sensitivity, accuracy, credibility and consistency.
Designers employed in the service of charitable organizations also take into account the needs of their target demographic when designing visually successful campaigns. Since oftentimes donors tend to be older adults, the designer must consider designing in a way that mitigates possible age-related challenges. Accordingly, a lot can be accomplished in the use of typography, scale, proximity, contrast and image choice to communicate clearly and effectively to a wider audience. An excellent example of this is the Planning Forward banner image used by Oglethorpe University (Figure 1). The banner connects to a dedicated web page which provides information to its supporters about laws and resources that can assist in gift planning in this period of uncertainty. A limited color palette of grayscale and yellow, simplified graphic elements and large typography quickly convey a message of unity and strength, reassuring supporters that their organization is taking steps with them to ensure a secure future together.
The use of digital media in our society is clearly essential for quick and efficient distribution of content. In addition to website graphics and web pages dedicated to specific messaging, many organizations are relying on email communication to reach their members and donors. Targeted eblasts exemplified by Figures 2 and 3 are designed to provide reassurance and express gratitude, and can go a long way in letting supporters know how vital they are to the strength and longevity of an organization. In Figure 2, the use of soft colors, confident, smiling donors, strong typography and contrasting colors help express the message of resilience, unity and hope. The second eblast (Figure 3) employs bold typography and an image to illustrate not only an orientation towards the future work of the organization, but also communicate to Legacy Society members that their support is essential and valued.
Much can be said about the role that design has played throughout history in shaping how people respond in times of crisis or a public health disaster. Visual communication has the power to reach a wide audience or target a select few, but ultimately its effectiveness is measured by the long-lasting impact it has on influencing perception and facilitating action. To be sure, designers have the profound ability to show us all the human side of a public health crisis, and in the process, reassure and inspire us when fear has gotten the best of us.