COVID-19: how graphic design can support vulnerable communities

“Simple but effective” graphic design could be a crucial way to reach out and reassure more vulnerable communities during the coronavirus outbreak.

As the coronavirus continues to spread across the world and the UK, more and more people are staying at home whether they are self-isolating or social distancing. While the respiratory illness has statistically low mortality rates among the young and healthy, it more adversely affects older people and those with pre-existing health conditions.

These groups are being encouraged to stay at home, but this can lead to loneliness and practical problems, like not being able to shop for food. In response to this, nationwide groups have been established as a way to support at-risk groups who are in isolation, as a way to reassure, offer practical advice and also access to help.

The details of the groups are all available in an online Google spreadsheet. A hashtag has been set up to spread the message online: #viralkindness.

The postcard that went viral

Along with the campaign, a simple piece of design has been shared widely. A form which can be posted through letterboxes without the need for human contact, with information about self-isolating and contact details that can be filled in for vulnerable people to make contact.

It was created by Cornwall-based lecturer Becky Wass, who said in a Facebook post she had been feeling “helpless” watching the news and promoted the sharing of her postcard.

Those in a position to help can list their names, address, phone number and what they can help with. Options include picking up shopping, posting mail, a friendly phone call or urgent supplies. There’s also a reminder that it’s free – a charitable service, not a paid-for one.

Underneath is advice about the illness, reminding people that it is contagious. “Please take every precaution to ensure you are spreading only kindness,” it says, continuing: “Avoid physical contact (2m distance). Wash your hands regularly. Items should be left on your doorstep.”

It is available as a PDF on Google Drive, so anyone from the UK – or the world – can download it and print it off and post it through people’s doors.

A key part of the movement is social media; Facebook and Whatsapp groups are used to organise communities, and then the designs can be distributed easily through online platforms. The printed form, however, means that the vulnerable groups (who often have access online services less frequently, if at all) can also be contacted and provided with information.

I’ve been feeling pretty helpless watching the news. Maybe you have too? I wanted to do something about it, so I’ve made…

Posted by Becky Wass on Thursday, 12 March 2020

“Simple but effective”

Emily Penny, brand strategist and voice at BeColourful, has designed her own door drop flyer for her local community in Chichester, where she says that there is an “older population”.

“We are lucky in that we already have an active Facebook group for the community,” she says, “but we are aware a lot of them aren’t online.”

As the group already produces a hard copy newsletter that is delivered by hand to 1,800 homes, it decided to add some information about coronavirus in the form of a door drop flyer.

The Parklands door drop flyer

It’s about providing reassurance, calls to action and suggestions for getting in touch with neighbours, Penny says. Inspired by the viral postcard, this one is tailored for the local community. It’s being distributed at the end of the coming week. Like the viral postcard, there will be a PDF format that can be printed at home.

The top section offers advice about self-isolation, and the bottom part can be filled in, cut out and posted through a letterbox. The design is “simple but effective”, with an emphasis on clarity.

An information guide for the local community, encouraging those who need support to seek it

Keeping in mind that the target audience might not have access to online services, the flyer focuses on the phoning someone for help.

A key part of the flyer is about engendering trust, in part created by the inclusion of the residents’ association’s name. “We’re lucky to have the association, so there’s a sense of reassurance,” Penny says. “It’s not completely anonymous.”

This sense of locality is also crucial, as vulnerable people are more likely to trust and accept help from people they know. “It’s about helping on your street, rather than in a wider area where it’s less personal,” Penny adds.

“Designers are best placed to look at problem-solving”

The coronavirus has changed daily life for many people at the moment; from self-isolation to working from home, to an even greater strain on the NHS. Penny believes that designers are in a good position to be able to provide creative solutions.

“Any situation like this, designers are best placed to look at problem-solving,” she says, suggesting that those working in the communications, or service design industry could provide solutions at this time.

Penny also points to the need for support of small businesses, who might be forced to adopt digital services now that more people are isolating at home.

“If people who have contracts that are falling away, or bookings that are disappearing, it’s not just about holing up at home and watching Netflix. Thinking ahead, there are lots of things designers could do to help.”

Have you been using your design skills to help communities? Let us know in the comments below. 

Hide Comments (3)Show Comments (3)
  • Joanne March 17, 2020 at 7:56 am

    Check out the ‘Stay Clean, Stay Strong’ posters that JWDK released as part of the fight against COVID-19 in China. They are a pastiche of old Chinese health posters from the 1950s.

  • Emily Penny March 17, 2020 at 9:57 am

    Thank you Design Week for picking up on my meagre effort. Clearly I’m not a graphic designer and didn’t have time to get one involved but I am a content designer so tried to help in this regard. My main point with my tweet over the weekend was that in the face of adversity, there is always a place for design to help and the best place to start is locally. Stay safe everyone.

  • Paul Scotton March 23, 2020 at 5:33 pm

    I saw this story on the Guardian newspaper website and thought it was a great idea.I live in Spain and as you know we have been in lockdown for over a week now so I thought this idea would work well here too. I am a graphic designer so putting a quick form together was easy …I did one in English and Spanish then shared it on Facebook etc. I also made it a sponsored post so more people saw it …the response has been fantastic. Here is the link to the post:

  • Post a comment

Latest articles