Design after disaster

In the wake of the appalling terrorist attacks in Paris I saw a number of designers and artists using their craft to show support and solidarity on social networking sites.

The most recognisable and widely shared of these was a brilliant mark created by Jean Jullien, a French artist living in London, which combined the CND symbol with the Eiffel Tower to produce a striking and universal icon which could be shared to show unity with the victims and families of the attack.

Jean Jullien Peace for Paris

I saw this symbol reproduced in a number of different guises and shared by a significant number of friends and celebrities:

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 18.18.00  Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 18.18.15 Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 18.56.30

Currently the original post has been liked over 155 000 times on Instagram account and his tweet has been shared 57 000 times. I appreciate the fact that Jullien decided not to sign his work before sharing it and has allowed it to become a symbol of hope after such an atrocious event. Indeed, in this article for Wired, Jullien admits he didn’t want or expect any exposure for his image and is “sort of almost embarrassed to be getting that much exposure as a result of such a tragic event.” (Jullien 2015). However, sadly the same can’t be said for other people with one person taking this symbol and using it to sell t-shirts:

Peace for Paris Tshirt

Nothing on this page mentions anything about donating profits to any charity – although I’m sincerely hoping they will do. I think the vast majority of people will agree that profiting from a terrorist attack is pretty atrocious, but what if this profit isn’t quite so direct. What if it comes via recognition for a fantastic symbol you created, or a design award for a poster created to raise money post-disaster? At what point does profiting from disaster become acceptable?

This all reminded me of an interesting post by Michael Johnson of Johnson Banks, which debates whether posters created to raise money for the Haiti earthquake should be entered into design awards. My initial reaction is that this sits very uneasily with me, at my most cynical I can acknowledge that design as an industry is sometimes very centred around a core of egotistical, self-congratulation that lauds mantlepiece ornaments above really making a change in the world, or indeed, at a shallower level – helping clients sell more products. And I think that at times when designers truly have used their skills to help change the world we almost, in a sense, shouldn’t undermine this by believing that a shiny award is the real thing they should care about. Forget the £10 000 you raised for charity, here is a metal plate to tell you that your work is good. Doesn’t that intrinsically feel wrong?

However at the crux of it, I think where I stand is that if a design is created initially as a gut reaction to a disaster or with the primary intention to help then any reward the designer may get as a bi-product of this is a good thing. But when a creation is more about their ego than the cause perhaps we should reconsider what we’re applauding.

My thoughts go out to all of the families affected by these attacks:
Donations to the French Red Cross can be made here
And donations to Medicins Sans Frontieres can be made here.


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