Japan: how to respond?
The creative community, appalled by events in Japan, has rushed to help. But is the resultant plethora of fundraising prints and posters an adequate or appropriate response? And does visual communications have a longer-term role to play in disaster relief?
Just as happened with Haiti, almost as soon as news of the awful earthquake in Japan spread across the world, they started to appear: fund-raising posters produced by designers, ad agencies and illustrators anxious to do their bit. The logic is straightforward - buy the poster and the proceeds go to aid those in need.
But this approach has not gone unquestioned. There's a good debate about the issues over at Eye plus Johnson Banks has also summarised the arguments on its Thought for the Week page. In a piece for the Fast Company website, writer John Pavlus called a poster (above) created by Signalnoise that has raised over $7000 for the Canadian Red Cross "fundamentally grotesque". "Shouldn't our desire to donate come from actual compassion, not as a side effect of our fascination with pretty artifacts?" Pavlus asked.
The QBN forum has also been debating the topic, asking whether the desire to create such posters is driven as much by self-promotion as it is by a genuine desire to help. And just what are the buyers of such posters supposed to do with them once they get them home? Does anyone really want an image of a crying Japanese flag hanging on their wall? Is such a poster's presence serving merely, as Pavlus writes, "as some sick, bragging monument to my own willingness to 'help'?"
These are important questions to ask, but I really don't believe such posters' makers are primarily or even substantially motivated by self-promotion. It seems to me entirely legitimate that imagemakers should respond to an urge to help by making an image - it's what they do. It's why musicians, respond to the same urge with benefit gigs or charity records.
Wieden + Kennedy's poster to raise funds for Japan, available here
Why do we have to buy things at all in order to donate? Shouldn't we just donate directly to charity without acquiring a poster or a CD along the way?
Many do just that, but the history of charity fundraising suggests that, as humans, we often need a little prompting in order to contribute. Everything from Live Aid, through charity auctions down to a raffle for the local hospice or a sponsored walk for a day centre exists because of this. In an ideal world, we would all make charitable donations entirely unbidden, but experience shows that sometimes we need helping along, whether by a concert from a favourite band or just by an old lady shaking a collecting tin and giving us a sticker.
One of the organisations that is involved on the ground in Japan is ShelterBox which delivers emergency aid via distinctive green boxes packed with vital equipment and supplies.
Go to the Get Involved section on its website and its position seems quite clear "By organising, or taking part in an event that raises funds for ShelterBox," it says "you will be directly providing aid for people affected by disasters all over the world." For an imagemaker, a simple and cost-effective way to do that is to make a print and sell it. In doing so, chances are they will end up channeling more much-needed cash ShelterBox's way than if they had just stuck their hand in their pocket and donated directly.
Perhaps some of our community's unease over the charity poster stems from feelings of inadequacy in comparison to other areas of design. Architects, for example, with a desire to assist disaster relief have the skills to design emergency shelters. Product designers can create simple, cheap forms of heating food. Is a poster really the best we can do? What can visual communicators do to directly influence operations on the ground?
Photo: Rob Kollaard
One possible answer was proposed by Gert Dumbar and his son Derk in 2007. A Safe Place is a system of pictograms designed as a tool for communication between aid workers and victims of disasters. Giving people in disaster areas good and accurate information, the theory goes, can save many lives.
Are there other, similarly practical ways in which visual communicators can get involved? It's something we are going to look at in the May issue of CR but if readers know of more examples, please let us know in the comments below.
Such projects would give our community the chance to get involved at a deeper, more long-term level. Reactive fundraising is valuable and welcome, but it also would be good to see visual communicators affecting disaster relief on the ground in a similarly positive way. Hopefully, our forthcoming piece will point up some opportunities.
All this has been on my mind of late not just because of the online debates but also because I have been involved in attempting to organise a response to the Japan disaster from the creative community.
Just over a week ago, a prominent designer called. He wanted to do something to help Japan, could CR help? The designer contacted friends and colleagues, many of whom had friends in Japan and who felt a great affinity for the country. All were keen to help in addition to donating money themselves, but how?
For a group of people with limited resources, selling Giclée prints is do-able and it's effective. A very high proportion of the money raised in this way goes to the charity concerned as there are few up-front costs. Organisations like ShelterBox and the Red Cross who are engaged on the ground in Japan need cash and they need it quickly. Selling prints will provide it, so that route seemed sensible as a first response.
But it also seemed necessary to divorce the works from the disaster itself. There's no need to illustrate what just happened, and no need to raise awareness. Contributors have been asked to concentrate not on the disaster but on why they love Japan, what makes it beautiful, unique and important to them. In this way we hope that the prints will have a longer life and will act not as a reminder of something awful but as a reminder of a moment when the creative community came together to support their friends and colleagues at a time of great need.
But what else can we do? A lot of people have offered items for auction, so that will happen soon. But besides fundraising, can this community help on the ground in any meaningful way? Do you know of any ways in which it is already doing so? Can we help to make sure that agencies are better equipped to respond to any future disaster?
Can we create a model for future disaster responses by the creative community? We will be setting up a website to act as a forum for suggestions and debate. We will be contacting Japanese designers and NGOs for their views but we would like to invite all CR readers to advise us also. Please let us know your suggestions in the comments below. If you know of anyone else who is already tackling these issues, please give us details.
Don't understand why anyone would want things like that hung on their wall. If you want to do your bit then just donate, seems bizarre to attach it to a trophy.
It's a tough one. How can anyone oppose someone trying to raise money for good causes, but personally I am inclined to agree that some of these pieces appear to be non-selfless promotion and are largely inappropriate. Who wants a poster on the wall reminding one of such a negative experience? Trinkets and mementoes are not needed here, cold hard cash is needed - that's all.
I have actually experienced first-hand such a self-promotional action recently, whereby someone didn't acknowledge someone's initial idea and continued to take all the credit, sadly making the real issue at hand fall into the shadows somewhat, and it becomes more about who can outdo the next man.
A better cause of action would be to selflessly donate money and generally keep it to yourself, i.e, don't go around advertising the fact and preaching to other people that they should follow your lead. Sure, advertise the available channels, but chillout on the whole "hey, look how good I am" thing.
Is this debate really about posters or is it actually about the apathy people feel towards disasters that do not effect them?
The signalnoise poster made $7000 and the Daniel Freytag poster made £4500. At the end of the day those numbers speak much louder and are worth more than any article denouncing them. Perhaps the posters are not to everyone's taste but questioning whether or not you would have it hung on your wall is totally pointless and fundamentally irrelevant. Some people will question why you would have a a Wim Crouwel poster on your wall. Put whatever the hell you want on your wall. Put it in your studio because it inspires you, put it in your bedroom because you want to impress girls, put it in the bin, whatever. It really doesnt matter.
Yes, it is true that people should be motivated to donate out of pure compassion but I think that anyone who genuinly believes that saying that is going to be a more effective way of raising money is "idealistic" at best and "really fucking naive" at worst. If people want to put their skills to good use by creating something that raises money to help people who are suffering in the most horrific way can that really be a bad thing? What is the difference between this and the old boys selling poppies on remembrance day or the fellas i saw the other day selling donuts on brick lane to raise money for Amnesty International? Those bastards! How dare they!!
Maybe if all the people whining on the internet about this could spend their time and skill within visual communication to create something that encourages people to donate out of empathy and compassion then this would not seem like such a fucking trite debate.
It's not necessarily a "trophy", maybe it helps keep others in your thoughts if you have something on the wall. It's very easy to donate and forget about the event and feel guilt free afterwards.
I know if I had one of those posters above I doubt I'd look at it feeling like I've done my bit, or show off to others about what I'd donated, I'd probably take a solemn moment to think about the events and how lucky I am not experience such an atrocity.
The text below the opening saluation 'Hello' was composed as an email and sent to a complete database of addresses of students and colleagues listed on our colleges internal address book.
It was sent yesterday morning. The content of the email includes links to see poster messages made by visual communication students.
On Thursday afternoon I presented them with a choice. The choice was to continue with the recommended teaching schedule - listed as a workshop about the use of 'grids' and layout hierarchy.
The other option i proposed was to look at issues raised in a blog about a poster design to raise cash for Japan and posted on the Co.design Daily newsletter
I had been out the previous evening at Dalston Superstore and saw a simple poster with a direct message: buy a Kirin Beer at Dalston Superstore and we debate 25p to http://www.redcross.org.uk
These two things acted as the prompt for Thursday afternoon's visual communication session.
The students were asked to consider the ethical issues raised in Co.Design Daily article and also the direct message in the Dalston Superstore/Kirin Beer collaboration to raise cash.
Four tasks were agreed. One group to chronicle what Japan Poster exist already. Another group were tasked with going out into the streets nearby the college to record a snapshot of red, circular objects.
A third group felt around the justgiving site to locate possible charities and to critique the purpose and relevance of each charity. The fourth group were asked to search online for further symbolic representations of red and circle.
Towards the end of the afternoon the students had agreed on ethical issues, symbolic subtlety and the correct appropriate use of messages.
This analytical approach is what design teaching should seek to value over simply asking students to be technically, conceptually or stylistically good.
Some here will see my posting here as self promotion, even promotion for the college. Surely any affiliation is useful to determine the bias behind the intentions of a post made on a public platform like eye blog.
Basically if students see that design is an active process of making rather than pontificating about font folios and colour palettes they might become good at what they do.
On Friday morning the students transformed the work from the previous day into these messages.
It shows them the power that few well-kerned words can invoke. They said as much themselves.
Sent on behalf of Design Communication and Digital Media student.
The handful of posters here are on display to raise money for Japan. We are a student group who were rallied by a fellow student affected by devastation of Fukushima wanted to show solidarity by raising money. The posters were created over 2 days in support of asking for donations. We hope you can support our action in some way to contribute to one of the few major charities who are passing on financial aid. Our designs are not of any instrinsic value other than us using them as a vehicle to explain some of the issues that the press and news organisations are reporting.
You can view some of the messages on our tumblerblog whatthewant link: http://bit.ly/gZDa1a. All the images are collected together in our flickr group designstudents_cavendishcollegelondon link: http://bit.ly/gYCe3n
Please take a moment and view the posters http://www.justgiving.com/japanposters and donate
This is also posted on the students' page http://www.facebook.com/typographyatcavendish?sk=wall Please share or post on your own blogsite.
Cavendish College London
I'm gonna sound really bad now. Does Japan (one of the world's richest economies) really need people raising a few grand here and there? What is this money doing? Is it just making us feel better in the face of our helplessness? Is the best way to help them sticking our hand in our collective pockets?
This is almost making disaster a fashion statement.
I don't really understand the intended take away of this article. What it tells me is that CR doesn't support creative people who use their skills and influence for good. Creative Review is also very late to this story. They didn't use their bandwidth in the days following the disaster (and it is a major disaster) to funnel people to direct giving options. CR is simply seeing the large amount of traffic hitting it's competitors sites (eye+fast co)) and starting their own little pity party here.
Im writing to the editors today and UNSUBSCRIBING to CR immediately. I also noticed you used the posters as your main image to grab people's attention instead of directly linking people to positive outlets.
None of my Japanese friends seem to care that people are fundraising in their own way. Wait until a catastrophe happens to you and then tell me if you mind how thousands of dollars are being collected for your relief.
Mattmo Von Alterberg
Please read the story carefully. I said " It seems to me entirely legitimate that imagemakers should respond to an urge to help by making an image - it's what they do. " I also said "Reactive fundraising is valuable and welcome" while at the same time announcing our involvement in a major fundraising collaborative project for Japan.
In the light of that, how on Earth can you say that "CR doesn't support creative people who use their skills and influence for good"?
It's marketing at the end of the day - The poster was made in an hour to be the first out, the poster is fully branded, James has boasted of Google ranking for help japan, he's giving away logo sticker packs with the poster and is broadcasting himself packing the posters.
I also agree with the above comment that Japan is an extremely rich nation and so I'm not convinced this $7 is really going to help that much also I would of thought that a proud nation like Japan would not of thought very highly of all these broken Japanese flag posters.
However if he can do that and still raise money for Japan he's laughing.
I'm glad you posed these questions and I don't know the answers. People seem to be strongly affected emotionally and should help as they feel moved to. I tend to agree that infographics are the area to make a tangible difference. A powerful one addressing the subject of hoarding came out of Japan, and inspired me to post about it:
My cell phone provider Credo Mobile donates a portion of their proceeds to charity; each month I can choose to round up my payment to make an additional donation. Making charitable giving a regularly-scheduled part of your business or practice would be a way to avoid tackiness, sensationalism or self-aggrandizement.
Hello. I have two posters hanging on my wall that raised funds for supporting people effected by the wildfires in southern California a few years back. When I look at them, I am reminded of how people came together to help. I am reminded that I am part of a larger community of creatives who care. I am reminded that we all need each other to survive in this crazy world. So I see no problem raising money through creative efforts for charitable causes. The only concern I see these days is the enormous amount of options and the potential for scams. If that concern can be alleviated, then go for it. Raise money in whatever what you can and help those in need.
A nice one here
I like the example that was used in the article. I think that this is a very important and crucial aspect of disaster relief. When you have disasters that are on a global scale, there are many different organizations that get involved in order to assist, both on the ground at the site of the disaster and all over the world. What is particularly worrying for me is that the primary medium of communication that these organizations have is the english language, that is considered the standard. Visual communicators have a way of making conversation faster and more accessible to everyone, language should not be our dominant form of communication because seeing is very often more effective than hearing.
Visual communication also allows for people do begin to act faster because they aren't explaining what they mean all the time.
For a space that is often occupied by people of different languages and different motivations, having a primary mode of basic communication could be effective.
That is where visual communicators need to be working. They are just as valuable as architects.
well personally I like them although I am not sure how many of theme I would hang on 'my wall'.
Check out what http://www.DurtanDesign.com does to inform the community and bring personal security awareness at: http://www.WhatsInYourKit.info a site that is completely non profit.
I think it encourages people to help.
Despite reducible or possibly not responding "correctly", at least they did something and moved with a good intention. I have a team working right now on an event we're calling Shop for Japan. This Saturday businesses will donate a percentage of their sales to an aid org of their choosing. It's about doing something helpful and interesting.
Perhaps a solution to this would be to use one's skills to simply attract attention to the cause - place the poster saying "help Japan" prominently on one's site for example - and then just direct people to the best way of donating some cash.
Surely people should stop nitpicking at how other people have decided to help. The way I see it is if people can help then let them, however they feel they can. Are we not missing the point that thousands of people have lost everything and I cant imagine they would criticize people for trying to raise money. If people can use their skills to raise money then we should let them without taking the synical view they are doing it to promote themselves.
Even if they are, who cares it it helps in the long run!
Whilst these creative responses seem well meaning, there also seems to be a strong self promotional aspect to much of the work.
There's something very pharisaic about it all.
If you want to be a good samaritan just donate to the NGO's who can use that money.
Or if you really want to use your creative energies to help, perhaps you could even offer your services to them.
But since most of them already employ strong creative teams they probably won't need you riding shotgun.
It's well meaning but I find Wieden + Kennedy's poster crass.
Not only is it poor design, as they've managed to create something that actually looks like an amalgam of the Japanese and Swiss Flags. And although they are donating to, they have no affiliation with the Red Cross, and the monies are therefore not tax exempt and you would be better off simply donating to the Red cross.
Unless of course you really want a poster - to prove how much you care!
Do creatives really care? They care about their books. Creating 'clever' visual communication like this based on current affairs is nothing short of opportunistic, a chance for them to capitalise on the moment and demonstrate so-called timely, quick-witted and elegant creative thinking. With blanket news coverage, posters are hardly required to raise awareness. And masturbatory pieces like these scream LOOK AT HOW SMART I AM, with the actual call to action a distant and vague by-the-way. The ideas are produced primarily for portfolios and, more pointedly, for the award shows' Public Service category (just you wait and see). The intent to self-promote in the face of tragedy is repulsive and abhorrent.
“A lot of Christians wear crosses around their necks. You think when Jesus comes back he ever wants to see a f*cking cross? It's like going up to Jackie Onassis wearing a rifle pendant.”
The whole things a great debate and should be explored further. After reading this im heavily beached on the 'ridiculous self promotion' side, those posters are shocking and might as well just show the studios logos in red... an A2 white poster with Wieden + Kennedy in red. We would all stare at the beautiful font as it hangs on our wonderful walls. Japan we love you
from the QBN thread...
I just would never put one of these posters on my wall, but still feel they are a worthy use of a designer's time.
When I was at school we had an annual garden party in the church grounds next door. It was a fundraiser and we were all asked to make a contribution. Some children brought in baked cakes. Some children brought in knitted tea cosies. Some just brought in tinned veg.
Each year there was a huge turnout at the garden party. Everyone had a great time buying the items that had been contributed. We raised money for much needed books, art & sports equipment while we enjoyed ourselves.
I don't suppose anybody really stopped to consider the motivation for baking a great cake or kitting their best tea cosy. They just focussed on the schools needs and it worked.
It was honest, without agenda and best of all, positive.
Does it really matter what someone's reasoning is for creating a piece of fundraising artwork? If the way to motivate someone to put their hand in their wallet is by drawing a picture then draw a thousand. Does Lenny Henry bouncing round a television studio with a plastic red nose on trivialise abject poverty in Africa. £74.3m raised on Friday says it bloody doesn't. Bounce on Lenny.
Contribute in any way you can folks. Every penny counts.
And as for opportunistic bashing of the big creative houses. They're where they are because of what they do well. I'm sure they don't really need any cheap publicity and lets face it, they're in a much better place than you or I to make a few bob for the cause.
As is usually the case with Advertising, 'He who pays the piper, calls the tune'. Only time will tell which images will persuade, cajole or even pressgang the public into making a response. As to 'inappropriate' or 'distasteful' uses of the Japanese (or any other) flag; aren't there rules about this sort of thing? If the rules are being broken, I am sure people are doing so with the best intentions. They want to keep Japan in the hearts and minds of the public. In my small way, this is what I am doing on my blog.
This creative out pouring is bandwagon hoping for the following reason...
What happened to our creative responses to Haiti, New Zealand or the Boxing day Tsunami that in one day killed 240000 people in a single event?????
Do we really care more about one of the largest production & economies on Earth than smaller countries?
I don't know there is something wrong with the way this has shown the good side of human nature.
Even fashion designers have gotten on to the fund raising bandwagon.
Could it be that this level of generosity (band waggoning), is a direct response to an event that was entirely recorded, youtubed, televised in some way some of it as it happened LIVE?
This out pouring is on par with the public mourning of Diana. A shift in public atitudes to the human level/cost of disaster and the human level of solidarity it brings.
If it helps the rebuilding of a fantastic country like Japan then that is all worth while. I personally will give funds to the red cross online anonymously. I do not believe in personal/business gain from disaster. People dont call me a cynic for nothing.
I think some people are missing the point here, this is an excellent summary of a fierce debate that seems to highlight the ultimate futility of our industry in the face of such a massive natural disaster. If I was a doctor, or an engineer or something useful like that, I'd might be able to fly over there and help (although I'm pretty sure I wouldn't), but I can't.
I COULD design a poster, sell it, and send the money to aid the recovery. Personally I haven't, but lots of designers have and I hope they raise lots of cash doing it. However, if something similar happened to the country I am living in, would my design skills be of any practical use at all? The Washington Post article is a fascinating example that shows they maybe would be.
The pictograms seem to be a great way for designers to provide real and useful solutions in disaster situations and that surely is a jumping off point for similar projects. I guess the problem is that producing these projects takes time and can't really be done in quick response to a disaster emergency. Some better way of handling communication between NGOs would be helpful or some template 'disaster handbooks' for distributing to victims would be pretty nifty.
Let's have some more constructive suggestions rather than just designerly whinging.
On the subject of the posters, if designers want to express their aungish and hurt in an immediate and responsive way, a poster seems a natural and logical way for them to do it. If they sell them to help the aid effort this is a good thing say I.
I can't believe that folk are even questioning motives, or asking why anyone would want posters like that on the wall. Does it matter? No. The only thing that matters is raising funds for shocking natural disaster relief such as whats happening in Japan.
Anyone who knows even the tiniest thing about the art world would also appreciate that you can't even begin to guess what other folk want on their walls. Everyones perspective is different, and with different reasoning - and again it doesnt matter what those reasons are, its completely subjective.
And do you really think that the vast majority of well known philanthropists don't push so hard without one eye on their own brand promotion, or perception of them in the public eye? The Flora/Virgin/Whatever London Marathon - what the hell do you think headline sponsors aims are? I don't see any difference.
To me, if anything in life is for mutual benefit, thats just about spot on, a great balance, and just happens to raise shed loads for very worthwhile causes.
I recently sold an A3 print of one of my photos for £2,000 in a charity auction. The charity works with children around the UK. Now personally I can't donate £2,000 to any charity. I'm just not that rich. This really got me thinking about what I could do with my photography. If I can't personally donate £2,000 then maybe someone can by buying one of my photos?
After seeing the devistation in Japan 2 friends and I got together and created 'The Print Aid Project'. We're selling prints by designers and photographers to raise money for the British Red Cross.
We are looking for people to submit designs and photographs to be sold through the site.
At the end of the day it would be great to write a large cheque and give it to charity, but I can't afford to so hopefully through this I can.
For me, the issue lies completely in the motive - that's why we're having this debate.
Being a fairly cynical industry (well, it is our job to question things) it's easy to assume designers are responding to the crisis for self promotional purposes by giving the impression they are ethically minded (which would be oxymoronic) and creating a piece of design that they can use to further their business.
The dichotomy comes in attaching their name to the design. In the case of larger agencies this can really help drive donations as they have a readymade audience and workforce that would jump at the opportunity to back the design. But by putting their name to it there's an intrinsic payback in promoting the agency.
It comes back to the old adage of there being no such thing as a selfless good deed. Slebs who traipse across deserts and climb mountains for charity aren't doing it purely out of the goodness of their own heart. They get an amazing experience out of it. Nonetheless, they raise a huge amount of money.
Similarly, we have become culturally accustomed to the notion of not giving something for nothing. Thousands of people didn't turn up at Live Aid for 'the kids' (unless that was the name of an up and coming band that was playing). But it fulfilled its ultimate goal by raising shedloads of cash.
The sheer existence of the red poppy is testament to this reluctance to give without getting something in return. As is the pink breast cancer ribbon. And the yellow Livestrong bands. The list goes on. Whilst they undoubtedly help raise awareness, the real payback is the warm fuzzy feeling you get for 'doing your bit', which you can proudly indicate to others via these emblems of do-gooding.
Regardless, all of the above are examples of design having a positive effect on fund raising.
Personally, I have been pretty appalled at some of the design responses to the Japan earthquake. Surely designers can be smarter than simply creating images that describe the cause of the disaster? But if they raise money or awareness of the crisis then they have at least fulfilled their purpose.
However, if they were done with even the slightest intention of gaining self promotion then shame on the designers.
But we'll never know.
What we do know though is that we need to try a lot harder as an industry to find a way to help in situations like this. I'm putting my thinking cap on right now…
"What happened to our creative responses to Haiti, New Zealand or the Boxing day Tsunami that in one day killed 240000 people in a single event?????"
But those countries don't have a cool red circle for their flag we can play with...
I set up this site ( http://www.benlambert.co.uk/japan ) just to aid myself in tracking all of the news and information out there. It's an aggregate of all the 'sources' that have provided consistently useful information. Katz, on the right, is a Tokoyo based journalist who's been providing live translation of the TEPCO conferences and updates as they happen, NHK World on the left, is providing a much better source of information than the Western Media.
Below that, a google API stream tracking any mention of certain keywords, which is a great 'catchall' for updates when something of note happens, on the right a geiger counter and weather station based in Hino.
Finally, at the bottom of the page, a group of google maps providing information on camp locations et cetera.
I'm a Kingston University Graphic Design student and, believe me, I am aware of the complete lack of design and wonky-ass CSS but that wasn't the point at the time, it was just a collection of all the most relavant stuff out there.
I put it on a couple of blogs, it got passed around, and between 14th and 16th of March had 45,879 hits from 57 countries, with a peak of 10,659 hits in an hour as the proverbial hit the fan and the spent rods became exposed.
Pure, relavent information is mightier than the 1/500 fanciful screen print, it seems - and maybe thats a much better angle to approach it all from.
I found this great site to help those in Japan http://www.aidforjapan.co.uk/
We can only do our best and hope for the best with all our prays.
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