Using design to communicate coronavirus

Recommendation: Ensure your key message or instruction is clear by conveying one clear message, designing with minimal text, conveying the relevant tone and iterating your designs whenever possible.

Importance of hand washing by Faisal Mohammad via the Viral Art Project
A message of solidarity by Kat McCord + Margot Boyer-Dry via the Viral Art Project
Chris Daze’ clear, simple message on how to flatten the curve, via the Viral Art Project

Why design is important

Visual communications have been used for centuries to share important messaging. Pivotal to coronavirus communications is ensuring the message, sentiment or instruction cuts through to your audience. And more than ever, at a time of confusion and uncertainty, good design has the ability to convey these with simplicity and clarity.

Whether you’re creating instructional hygiene infographics for social media, attempting to raise morale with a solidarity message or crafting a bespoke poster for a particular community, good and relevant design is key.

The UN and the World Health Organization recognize the power of good design. They held an open call competition asking artists to submit designs in any form that translated critical public health messages about the disease within the UN’s five “key messages”:

  • Physical Distancing
  • Knowing the Symptoms
  • Myth Busting
  • Do More, Donate
  • Kindness Contagion.

Although many pointed out that the competition falls into the practice of asking designers to work for free in return for exposure, this move demonstrates the recognition of these organizations to the power of design.

The creativity of the responses must match the unique nature of this crisis—the magnitude of the responses must match its scale.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres

And it’s not just the UN and the WHO. Creatives have rallied in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak to use their abilities to inform and direct the public. The Viral Art Project invites designers to submit poster art raising awareness and sharing key messages regarding coronavirus, while Vox created a clear infographic to demonstrate how COVID-19 is worse than the usual seasonal flu.

What makes good coronavirus design

In addition to following general design best practice, when designing for a public health crisis you should aim to adhere to the below:

  • Reduce cognitive load. Make it clear what you are conveying both imagewise and with content so they are easily comprehensible
  • Keep text minimal and clear
  • Ensure that your key message is large and front and centre
  • Convey the relevant tone: should it be empathetic, assertive, educational, reassuring?
  • When relaying instructions, provide a clear step by step
  • Consider your audience: consider the particulars of the medium you are publishing in, and localise your designs where relevant
  • Whenever possible, test and iterate your designs based on your target audience's feedback
Territorial Empathy designed this bilingual door hanger for neighbours to offer to support others
Powerful ‘stop the spread’ animation by Juan Declan and Valentina Izaguirre

Wherever possible, we recommend testing your designs to ensure that they are eliciting the sentiments and intentions you aim for, that they are clear and they are attention-grabbing. Whether you are testing with a wide focus group or simply asking colleagues and friends, maximize the effectiveness of your design by trialling it.

In their 29 April webinar, the Behavioural Insights Team who work with the British Government recommend asking the following questions:

  • What main action do you feel you were being advised to do?
  • To what extent do you plan to change your behavior?
  • How easy were the images and the messaging to understand?
The Behavioural Insights Team tested their design for a hand washing poster, iterating based on feedback from focus groups to optimise their messaging. As shown in the BIT’s behavioral insights for COVID-19 comms webinar

The last word

There are a great many areas of art that can be used to communicate key messages and information about coronavirus - including ones not covered in this article such as audio. The key principles for effectiveness across all are to ensure your messaging is clear and concise, ensuring the tone is relevant and to seek feedback to improve your design whenever possible.