Back to News

Design in crisis

Following on from our previous article “Five ways graphic design is being utilised effectively during the current COVID-19 crisis” we thought we’d take a wider look back at how design has responded to crisis over the years.

Economic crisis

Economic crisis forces businesses, and society as a whole to re-evaluate their priorities and objectives. The design industry is often on the forefront in responding to a changing economic climate – adapting and finding new ways to tackle evolving and increasingly more demanding briefs.

One such example of this was seen during America’s Great Depression in the 1920s, where design was called on to try and lift the country out of its economic woes. Industrial designers set about redesigning mass-produced consumer goods, such as refrigerators, to improve their appeal and perceived value, to encourage people to part with their money.

Economic crisis

In Wartime...

Graphic design has the power to really influence people and their behaviour. This has perhaps been seen most prominently during both World Wars, where design was used as a powerful tool to elicit both emotional and behavioural responses in society.

We’re all familiar with the striking ‘Lord Kitchener Wants You’ WWI recruitment poster, created by graphic designer Alfred Leete. These types of recruitment posters have been widely recognised as the driving force to encourage men across the country to enlist in the army. September 1914 saw record numbers enlist, with over 400,000 new volunteers, which coincided with the release of Leete’s iconic poster.

During WWII, graphic design was widely used for propaganda purposes – to demonise the ‘enemy’ and rally support for each country’s cause. There was also a raft of posters designed to influence the behaviour of the general public, telling them what they should and shouldn’t do to help contribute to the ‘war effort’. Many of these designs have become iconic, such as “Keep calm and carry on” and “Dig for victory”.

wartime poster

Responding to scandal and negative PR

Over recent years, we’ve seen more and more big-name brands exposed for their scandalous behaviour and practices. From the VW emissions scandal to Amazon’s poor working conditions and practices, bad PR can have a catastrophic impact on even the biggest, strongest brands. How those companies choose to respond to scandal and negative PR can have a massive impact on the overall damage to their brand, reputation and, subsequently, financial stability. Careful and considered copywriting and design is often used by big brands to help them diffuse, and respond to, scandal. A perfect example of this was created by KFC, following their much-publicised chicken shortage. Their “FCK” advert was simple, striking and apologetic, but in a quirky and humorous way, that helped them bring both their customers and the media back on-side.

Responding to scandal and negative PR

Environmental crisis

Global warming, pollution, deforestation, over-fishing… it’s clear that globally we need to take action in order to help save our planet. Designers across all disciplines and sectors are rallying to the cause in many different ways. For example, we’re already seeing noticeable changes to the way that products are packaged, with a focus on reducing the amount of single-use plastics. Graphic designers are also joining the fight, by creating engaging and effective visuals to help spread the message and encourage us all to take action. The benefit of graphic design in this scenario, is that it can be used to create hard-hitting and visually striking imagery that wouldn’t otherwise exist, such as this example from WWF.

Environmental crisis

Humanitarian crisis

Sadly, millions of people across the world are still facing a life of poverty and suffering. International aid agencies and charities, such as OXFAM, are doing fantastic work, but in order to do so they need support and donations from the general public. This again is where designers step in; creating adverts that will pull on our heartstrings and encourage us to take action and donate.

Humanitarian crisis