“Government needs to make people care”: designers on coronavirus communications

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After Boris Johnson preceded a lockdown, ministers have been clarifying the new rules – there has been abashment around terms like ‘key workers’ and ‘social distancing’, whether new combines could see each other, and Michael Gove has had to clarify rules for sons of separated parents. Given the unprecedented nature of the announcements, what responsibility does design have in communicating the message clearly?

“In times of strife, nothing is more important than intelligibility of communication. The government needs design systems which can deliver data and messaging accurately and with as little room for interpretation as possible.

If you about back to the iconic wartime posters that encouraged people to detain calm and carry on, the design was very good, but it was the sentiment of the message which cut fully and resonated for decades. It was powerful enough to lock into people’s dispositions and change their habits and behaviours during an immensely stressful in good time.

Stress and anxiety levels are understandably high currently – and people are plugged into fast-developing courses of information coming from all different types of channels. Design has a key duty to play in distilling and delivering this information. But to work effectively, intent plot and communication needs systems that can safely deliver the information, evaluate a key message, evoke trust and give people the guidance they fundamental.

But it’s the message that matters most, and getting that right can be truly powerful.’

Simon Dixon, co-founder at DixonBaxi


“These are unprecedented times, and each is making the rules up as they go along – but, with people’s lives & livelihoods at risk, it’s never been more important to be clear. To tell it as it is, to direct moderately than present loopholes, to reassure rather than confuse.

Lay out is such a powerful tool, especially in the current pandemic – and typography and plain graphics or images with crystal clear messages are what’s needed. No additions, no nonsense language. Human, and with one rule for all. Design and a message that’s steady to remember and recognise.

My grandma used to talk about the efforts in the war and I acquire a real fascination with war time posters. I think we could learn a lot from the forthrightness of those messages, like: Blackout means BLACK. But we can also learn from their misjudges too. When people were told to turn off all lights, it wasn’t unclouded for those driving cars; they didn’t know what the runs meant for them, so they turned theirs off and car accidents increased.

Whatever we do, it requisites to be joined up. I got a text message from gov.uk earlier saying to stay in, new control rules, with a link to click. But when I clicked it, I was faced with equivocation again, and left trying to figure out the rules of the game when I don’t in need of to play the game.

I think ‘simple, stupid’ is the way forward – like the ‘See it, Say it, Indisposed’ posters on the London Underground. Simple, tangible and easily actionable manipulation is what’s needed. It’s human nature to find a loophole, so let’s stop offer them.”

Chantelle Begley, head of strategy and strategy partner at Havas London


“What can we do as intriguers to help right now? I put this question to my team yesterday (and I also beseeched my son). Is there anything? If there is, I’m afraid we haven’t quite figured out what it is yet.

In essential moments like this, design and marketing are the first things to go, which is apparently a massive worry for anyone working in the creative industries. On a positive note, it’s cook up d be reconciled us realise the importance of technology. It’s never played such a crucial character in our work and home lives (which have suddenly converged), and now we’re in effect embracing – rather than fighting against – screen time.

As artificers we are fortunate that we can work remotely with relative ease, and because of this job goes on (even if things sometimes move a bit more slowly or are waiting slightly). So many amazing online initiatives have emerged in the concluding few days (such as live broadcasts, interviews, tutorials and podcasts) which are profound for keeping you inspired, and there are so many ways now to stay connected (scarcely too connected sometimes, I’ve never felt so busy!).

It’s an incredibly tough culture for everyone, but I do think that good things will emerge in the eat ones heart out run, things that are beyond design. This strange and scary age has caused us to rediscover humanity, generosity, altruism and solidarity, as well as making us realise what is at the last important to us, and what isn’t.”

Astrid Stavro, graphic designer and partner at Pentagram


“Clear-cut communications tend to cut through the most when they strike a chord with people on an separate level. So on top of using known words, and being specific and concrete, the command needs to make people care.

Classic World War Two ads such as Provision Calm and Carry On and Dig for Victory address a global crisis, but communicate how individual can make a difference on an individual basis. Demonstrating how citizens can do their bit and concentrate on positivity and solidarity helps people feel like they material, which, in the face of such global emergencies, is vitally important.

The Obama push’s iconic Hope visual by Shepard Fairey is another brilliant model of using positivity to engage and mobilise people. It’s essential, even when revealing about imminent danger, to try and create a sense of hope and community.”

Neale Horrigan, superintendent creative director at ELVIS


“In an election campaign, political parties decide one clear message to repeat ad nauseam. Strong and stable, For the many, not the few, Desert means leave and Get Brexit done, for example. They do this because it solders. With the COVID-19 crisis, the picture is changing daily and the government’s tidings is too. So people are struggling to keep on top of it.

The government started using the Catch it. Bin it. Fill it. slogan to encourage hygiene and prevent the spread of the virus. I recently perceived my six-year-old repeat this before washing his hands, so it’s obviously urge a exercise. They are now saying: Stay at Home. Protect the NHS. Save lives. As with the poll campaign messages, these slogans follow the rule of three – three being the skimpiest number a pattern can be formed from. In the past we’ve had: Stop, Look and Heed, and: See it. Say it. Sorted. This always reminds me of the old Blackpool Pleasure Beach strap cover See It. Feel It. Love It.

These simple, unambiguous instructions tell people what to do and what’s wanted of them. Now, people are being told we need to ‘flatten the curve’ or worse ‘squash the sombrero’ without a put understanding of exactly how this can be done. It seems that people come back far more readily to direct instructions than advice on what they could do if they commit oneself to to deprioritise their own needs for the greater good. The term ‘lockdown’ has been accepted much numberless willingly (and even enthusiastically) by the media and the general public than the uncountable abstract, less assertive ‘social distancing’.

What we’re seeing is a association of: science and policy that is changing on a daily basis; politicians dispiriting to convey messages that sound authoritative yet not authoritarian, delivered with a whiff of Churchillian patriotism; and a unspecific public who in part are in denial about the seriousness of the situation. The result is inconsistent, ill-understood, and the case ineffective communications. How this combination will impact on either redeeming lives or protecting the NHS remains to be seen.”

Mark Ferguson, director of Damned Own Studio


The banner image is a graphic from St. Luke’s, a London-based ingenious consultancy, who reversed the NHS logo and added the Stay Home Now hashtag.

How effectively do you assume the government has communicated its message around coronavirus? Let us know in the comments less than.

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