Six Feet Apart Please is a digital time-capsule of social distancing stickers made over lockdown
Savannah Walker, a New York-based graphic designer, has launched an open-source library of markings and stickers from around the city.
- Ayla Angelos
- 9 April 2021
Who would have thought that a year ago, lines on the ground outside shops, warning signs and stickers reminding us to keep our distance would become the norm? This is something that Savannah Walker, a graphic designer from Tampa and now based in New York, began to notice as soon as the pandemic hit. “I watched the city grow quiet and New Yorkers retreat to the suburbs and outer boroughs,” she tells It’s Nice That. “Daily walks kept me sane the first months, when normal activities like going to the grocery store or exercising in the park became surrounded by fear. My apartment was a few blocks away from a makeshift hospital in Central Park for Covid-19 overflow.”
“Without a purpose,” she continues, “other than my own need to process, I felt like I should document it all. I snapped photos of how Covid-19 shaped the city, and saw these stickers slowly accumulating around my neighbourhood. They all shared the same visual language.” It wasn’t long until Savannah’s entire camera roll became populated with these snaps, inspiring her to organise her findings into a spread sheet and resultantly creating Six Feet Apart Please – an open-source archive and mammoth library of markings and stickers from around the city.
Of how Savannah came to this point in the project, the first thing to note is that she was introduced to the design world from a young age – more specifically when growing up in the creative department of her mum’s branding agency. Constantly amongst designers and rummaging through their sketchbooks, this evoked a love and interest for the medium. “I spent a lot of afternoons as a kid just wanting to make something, not caring about the why’s and how’s – which is something I really admire now and am trying to get back to,” she explains. As such, she continued her design-centred yet multi-disciplinary education at the Savannah College of Art and Design, later graduating with a BFA in Graphic Design. A few internships later Savannah knew she wanted to delve into the world of branding and started a role Red Antler in Brooklyn, a position she still holds today.
As things turns out, Savannah had moved to New York for her first job in January last year, just three months before the pandemic swept the city and globe. At the start of her career and looking to dive into all sorts of experiences, she was constantly searching for inspiration and found herself turning her focus upwards – observing buildings, posters, billboards and subway signs. “But the ground was a new medium for New York and for me,” she notes. This was also when the term social distancing had been coined, and the arrival of such had caused wide-spread controversy. “Design was pushing a progressive idea before some of our government and politicians did.”
With the idea in tow, Savannah set out with her new “quarantine obsession” and constantly went out “sticker hunting”. This mostly took place in the mornings before work all across Manhattan, and it wasn’t long until she’d collated more than three hundred stickers in total. Of course, with such a large collection, you’re going to notice a few similarities, patterns and indifferences and Savannah started to document these occurrences, breaking them down into categories of shape and colour. One of the larger similarities that she became aware of is how the signs were used globally, receiving responses from people across Paris and South Korea who’d stated how they’d come across similar stickers in their streets. “This global synchronicity felt meaningful,” she adds. “I think it’s also funny that as a technology-raised generation, when we see something new, interesting or weird, we take a picture of it even with no plan to look at it again. We’re all sort of digital hoarders.”
Flicking through the collection, you’d be hard pressed to find one you haven’t seen before in your own local dwelling. You know the type – bright and bold yellow lines or a pair of shoes. All over the subways in New York, for example, Savannah started to notice how the typical shoe-sole graphics were being replaced by Easter egg stickers of high-heels, dog paws, duck pads or horseshoes. “The stop by the Natural History Museum has dinosaur claws. They’re subtle but really celebrate the people; they’re very New York.” Other sightings include black rectangles depicting three pairs of shoes outside the Empire State Building – “the tiniest in the middle, showcasing the quintessential American unit” – and more temporary stickers, too, like skeleton feet marked sideways that popped up around the time of Halloween.
“Watching these stickers become a global phenomenon really emphasised what a long-lasting icon they’ve become, and the ephemera they’ll hold for generations,” concludes Savannah. “Superficially, I love the way they range from functional to ironic, and showcase the way brands have evolved to stay relevant in a pandemic-draped consumer landscape.”
Looking to the future however, and “on a deeper note, someday they’ll disappear and I think we’re all excited for when we can close this six-foot gap,” she concludes. To hug, hold, and even just stand near each other again. Six Feet Apart Please will become a digital time-capsule to remember how far away we felt for a year in our lives, and the design that helped us navigate all that space.”
Savannah Walker: Six Feet Apart Please, Subway (Copyright © Savannah Walker, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she became online editor in 2022 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.