How one Mexico City design studio helped residents after the recent earthquake

MiniSuper Studio’s poster, distributed on the street and in help centres, is helping those who experienced the Mexican earthquake in September to recover from the trauma of the event

After a powerful earthquake hit Mexico on September 19, designer Blair Richardson and her studio in Mexico City wanted to help their fellow residents. They produced a one-page poster full of advice, resources and contact information which soon began making a difference. We talk to her about the project.

Can you tell us a little about your studio?

MiniSuper Studio is a small graphic design and branding office located in Mexico City. I founded the studio a little over a decade ago in Austin, Texas, after several years working at Pentagram, and moved to Mexico in late 2009. The work is mainly food-focused: lots of restaurant branding, food packaging, and cookbooks, both stateside and here in Mexico. We also have a Vandercook Universal I letterpress with a growing collection of antique wood type—a rarity in Mexico! I love living here and find this creative city an endless fountain of inspiration.

What was the reason for creating the poster? What were you hoping to help with?

Our office is located in a beautiful old house in the Roma Norte neighbourhood, one of the hardest hit. Tremors are common here, but when the earthquake began on September 19, we knew it was different: it was like our office was suddenly on top of a trampoline. The power cut as we were running down the stairs, being thrown around by the movement. As we reached the driveway that exits to the street, an eight-storey office building next door began to collapse, and we were trapped behind the falling rubble. We watched as huge concrete beams fell and flattened a car between us and the exit gate. Luckily, no one was hurt! The hours following were a blur of messages, trying to make sure everyone was OK, seeing fallen buildings all over the neighborhood. Many people died in the blocks around us. Needless to say, it was a rather traumatic day.

In the first week following the quake, adrenaline kept us all busy working in the streets, moving rubble, providing supplies, and generally trying to attend to those who didn’t fare so well. Some restaurants opened their doors for free to feed anyone helping with the effort. I spoke with the manager of Contramar, a well-known (and incredibly delicous) seafood restaurant, and she explained, “We’re not saving lives, but serving food is what we know how to do, so that’s how we’ll help.” The week after, as we tried to get back to work, I wanted to find a way to use our design skills in a similar effort.

Can you explain its content and how you researched it?

Our office shares a space with a contemporary culture think tank called Buró–Buró. In the days following the quake, our teams gathered to discuss what actions could be taken to help, using the skills we have. One of Buró’s employees shared a document she received during a training course in psychological first aid in Barcelona years earlier, which outlined the symptoms of stress following a traumatic event. We immediately identified that we were suffering from many of the symptoms! Our brains were fuzzy, slow-moving, confused, we were exhausted and couldn’t complete common tasks. I quickly got online and found a website with advice and steps to take toward recovery. We found phone numbers of therapists offering free phone therapy and included their contact information, along with some government resources. I compiled and edited the text, had a friend quickly do the translation of the English bits, and found a screenprinter to print overnight. The content could probably use a final polish to correct grammar and such, but it was important to get it out in a timely manner, so we moved quickly.

Can you talk us through the way in which it is designed and why you chose to do it that way?

Because of the amount of information, a poster seemed like the best vehicle to communicate. Meixco City, and our neighborhood especially, is very walkable, and many supply centres and shelters opened in the streets as civic initiatives, providing central places to post. We used a strong Swiss design aesthetic to communicate as clearly as possible and to make it feel official. The title, 19s, is the hashtag that arose to reference the event (19th of September). We selected pink paper for its uplifting, friendly mood (and because it’s cheap!), and we screen-printed so that the ink wouldn’t run in case of rain.

How has the poster been distributed?

We post them in the streets and in supply centres and shelters, and we gave them to bike brigades moving supplies around the city to post on their route. We’ve sent stacks in aid trucks headed to Morelos and Puebla, areas outside of the city that were also devastated. Posting in front of grocery stores and markets seems like the best spot. Every time I pass by the ones in my neighbourhood, people are outside reading it.

 What are you hoping it will achieve?

I hope that it has helped people identify that major trauma, such as what we’ve been through, has psychological effects. It’s tempting to say, “Oh, I’m alive, I didn’t lose my home or my belongings, no one I know is dead, everything is OK,” and expect to feel normal. I even felt guilty of my disabling feelings once the adrenaline wore off; after all, I know people who lost everything, and I’m fine! But experiencing trauma is not so easy to brush off. The opening title is, “It’s normal to feel this way”.

What has the response been so far?

Amazing. As we are putting up a poster, there are normally people gathering behind us reading it before we even finish taping. People thank us. I tell them that I needed the information, and I am happy to share it and help the healing process. There are often tears as people recount to us what they’ve been through. My designer, Jessica Sandoval, left a stack with the psychologist who is working directly with families that lost loved ones in a building half a block from us, and we’ve received many emails from teachers and school directors looking for the PDF to print for their classrooms.

While I would love for this earthquake to not have happened, I’m grateful for the experience in terms of how I’ve seen us all grow, and how the community came together to help. For my studio, it was an important lesson in how to use our specific set of skills in a meaningful way. We weren’t pulling bodies out of rubble, we weren’t saving lives. But I think that the poster has provided a bit of accessible advice to help the healing begin.

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