Can the power of design really make a difference?

With so much praise, and rightly so, falling at the feet of key workers right now, some may find it hard to think of the role of a creative as life saving or essential.

Creative in a crisis is not just about designers flexing their creative muscles. Strong conceptual slogans help important messages to stay in peoples heads. Catchy and easy to understand commands are easy for people to follow and most importantly remember.

We may be in a totally new and unique situation but this isn’t the first time powerful design has been instrumental in survival. When we look back at World War 2 there are many famous informational posters that are still recognised by people today. ‘Dig For Victory’ was informative, simple to follow and most importantly inspiring. ‘Keep calm and carry on’ has now been bastardised from tea-towels to placemats, encouraging people to bake or drink gin, but originally it was a clear, concise and catchy message to motivate the nation to keep going throughout wartime.

Today we have a different enemy but the creative brief stays the same: Inform people in an easy to follow impactful way. ‘Stay home, save lives’ has become the mantra of Covid-19. Hammersmith & Fulham Council has recognised this by plastering the slogan borough-wide.

The biggest shift however since war time is the focus on design to promote mindfulness through positive thinking. Whist our beloved NHS treat the body, designers have been popping up to help to treat the mind. Taking design to the streets with a primary aim of not only informing but making people feel better. Designers are harnessing feel good people-power and spreading waves internationally.

In one Dutch city a joyful poster campaign by Graphic Matters has brought together designers from all over the world. It’s part of the Stay Sane, Stay Safe project founded by design studio Lennarts & De Bruijn and lettering agency overdeschreef . The people of Breda now come face to face with everyday uplifting phrases from our ‘new normal’ whenever they go outside (for exercise or essentials, obviously). By filling the streets with positive statements they encourage neighbourhoods to look after each other whist spreading some much needed cheer.

Dublin based designer Annie Atkins has created a series of fake Public Health Service style posters to raise spirits during lockdown. The posters have a vintage feel and are quite like a tongue-in-cheek representation of the inspiring WW2 ‘roll up your sleeves and get on with it’ attitude.

After the Birmingham Design Festival was postponed, the organisers used the billboard campaign originally supposed to advertise the event to instead spread technicolour positivity with messages of love and hope around their city. The ad spaces becoming their own celebration of design prevailing through these tough times.

Closer to (our) home in Leeds the street art project ‘In Good Company’ launched ‘Posters For The People’ spreading positive vibes throughout the city in over 150 sites. But they are not stopping there, posters can now be ordered online and delivered straight to your door. Positivity prints coming soon to homes, gardens, businesses and public spaces very near you. And for even more feel good, sales will raise funds for charities supporting NHS staff and key workers.

And don’t forget the power of the meme. When the virus started to become a threat to our everyday life you may have worried that Social media might become a toxic place full of scaremongering and untruths presented as fact. But overwhelmingly socials have been full of good old humorous memes. If laughter is the best medicine we have to thank the ‘designers’ (anyone with a smart phone) who are constantly finding new ways to make light of the situation.

Whether you’re a creative or not it’s very good to know that in an uncertain world, whatever lies ahead there will always be great design to guide us through, lift our spirits and spread some smiles.