The United Nations issues an open brief to designers to help fight coronavirus

In its first open brief to the creative community, the United Nations is asking for designers to help produce concise and impactful visuals to help share life-saving information on Covid-19.

30 March 2020


In an open brief to creatives across the globe, the United Nations has detailed how it’s in need of our help. Within this unprecedented and frightening time we are experiencing due to the spread of Covid-19, the UN has identified a need for clear and concise messaging, which is equally engaging from a visual aspect as it is useful and instructional. In short, it needs a hand with communicating critical public health messages which could save the lives of many from the virus, and is in need of designers to do so.

Within the brief – the first ever for the creative community – the UN details how it is looking for “a multitude of creative solutions to reach audiences across different cultures, age groups, affiliations, geographies and languages,” specifically asking those available to “extend your imagination, raise your ambition, and lend your support and ingenuity”. The overall aim of which is to continue to communicate the correct information about protection from the virus, as well as preemptively to reach communities who are able to avoid an outbreak, or at least minimise risk.

To do this, the UN has identified six points of public activation which it believes are “most essential right now” and created a creative brief for each. These six briefs individually touch on personal hygiene, social distancing, knowing the symptoms of the virus and how to act, encouraging a “kindness contagion”, helping to bust myths on the virus, and raise awareness for donations. It is also encouraging both individuals, agencies, brands and platforms to tackle these open briefs. For instance, it suggests creatives could “help create content for particular audiences” and “interpret messages in a fun and engaging way”, while brands could donate media space or share briefs with employees, and agencies and wider media could help by leveraging talent to interpret messages around the six key points identified. “The way we communicate and how we do so is as important as what we communicate,” explains the brief.

Speaking on the open brief, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres adds, “The creativity of the response must match the unique nature of the crisis – and the magnitude of the response must match its scale.” Find out more detail about each brief, its tone of voice and possible ways to approach it in full below. You can sign up directly in response to a brief here.

Personal Hygiene

Although a consistent part of the rhetoric around preventing the spread of Covid-19, continuing simple hygiene measures remains of vital importance. Within this the UN notes four areas of focus for information detailing the upkeep of personal hygiene: hand washing, reduction in face touching, respiratory hygiene and staying at home. For further information on these points, and how beneficial they are, head here.

Within this completely open brief, creatives could work on new ways to ensure these details are being kept front of mind, such as through engaging animations or infographics. In order for this information to be engaged in with the serious level it requires, the UN suggests the tone for these creations should be fact-based and educational, but still maintain an upbeat, jovial and personal manner.

Physical Distancing

Again another piece of advice we should all (hopefully) be very familiar with is physical distancing, the second brief for the project. Within this brief the UN is asking for creatives to interpret ways for the public to keep in mind that they must maintain a physical distance from one another, specifically two metres (six feet) away from anyone who appears to be coughing or sneezing. This advice also includes staying at home if one begins to show symptoms of the virus, as well as avoiding gatherings and those who are more vulnerable, such as the elderly or those with underlying health conditions.

Examples of how to promote physical distancing could be anything which demonstrates its benefit, an already-in-action example being balcony concerts performed in Italy. If translating this to a more straightforward design approach, the UN recommends sticking to a tone which is based upon the above facts but also including an element of common humanity, shared experience, collective wellbeing, as well as mental and physical health.

Know the Symptoms

The third brief within the project asks creatives to create work directly appealing and reaching an individual. Asking creatives to consider how they could communicate that we must acknowledge and understand the importance of recognising symptoms, the UN is asking for creative works which will promote the fact that individuals must stay at home if they feel unwell. This also extends to communicating the importance of knowing the process for contacting health authorities, and when to do so, in your local area too. A great example of how this could be communicated is recommended by the UN here.

The suggested tone for designs tackling this section of the brief is educational and professional, considering the serious information contained. At the same time, an approach should be rational, calm and reassuring, rather than alarmist.

Kindness Contagion

The next area for creatives to think about is more collective. The affect of Covid-19 threatens literally everyone and, in turn, has become the worst global crisis since WWII. Yet, there are groups who are more vulnerable and need the protection of those in a more comfortable position. Therefore this fourth brief is asking for the creativity community to think about how to promote a kindness contagion, pointing out how we need to work together “to propagate global solidarity”.

As a result this brief is asking for participants to consider “resetting the narrative” by acts which could highlight “the need for global and collective cooperation to face the pandemic”. Creative responses should both “inspire and spotlight acts of humanity” in this case, in both big and small ways. This approach is also inline with the UN’s “Global Goals” which include no poverty, zero hunger, quality education and gender equality.

The tone for this brief should engage with common humanity, mental health, be caring and offer solidarity, empowerment, destigmatisation, inclusivity and joy.

Myth Busting

In a speech, the WHO’s chief officer Dr Tedros announced: “Our greatest enemy right now is not the virus itself, it’s fear, rumours and stigma.” As a result, fear and misinformation are two factors the UN have identified as being “two of the biggest challenges we must overcome” during this crisis, asking designers to help bust these myths with creativity. To help support the work here is a document detailing all of WHO’s myth busters.

Creative responses in this section of the brief have the opportunity to stop the spread of misinformation, particularly from leaping to a viral scale. In turn, responses to stopping such myths (even if it’s a giant lasagna being made in Wembley stadium) should be fact-based considering the nature of this brief, but also reassuring, informative, rational, relevant and compassionate too.

Do more, donate

The final brief in its open call is asking creatives to consider how visual information could encourage more to donate, where possible, to the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. This funding goes towards both tracking and understanding the spread of the virus, ensuring care for patients and equipment for frontline workers, as well as helping towards efforts to develop vaccinations, tests and further treatments.

Suggestions for where individuals could donate from everyday expenses include encouraging people to donate their usual commuting expense or their daily coffee, now that most are working from home, for instance. Within this the UN suggests creatives empower those to donate, as well as keep to a tone of compassion and solidarity, and promote that small actions can equal big impact.

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy (she/her) is the senior editor at Insights, a research-driven department with It's Nice That. Get in contact with her for potential Insights collaborations or to discuss Insights' fortnightly column, POV. Lucy has been a part of the team at It's Nice That since 2016, first joining as a staff writer after graduating from Chelsea College of Art with a degree in Graphic Design Communication.

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