How design has helped refugees in times of crisis and discrimination

This week is national Refugee Week, a seven-day series of art, film, music and theatre events celebrating the contributions of refugees to the UK. We mark the occasion by asking designers about the most worthwhile projects created to help those who have fled their home countries.

Miranda Bolter, design director, Superunion

“With the stories that have been emerging from US borders this week and recent racially-motivated attacks occurring across Europe, feelings of outrage and helplessness seem to have hit many people. As designers, we may not have the power to directly influence government policy, but with powerful communication we can change attitudes and help combat prejudice.

One such project is Made by Refugee; a beautifully simple yet powerful campaign that reminds people of the contributions refugees have made to all aspects of life, from Albert Einstein and Freddie Mercury to Carl Djerassi, one of the inventors of the birth control pill. And it’s all based on something as humble as a sticker.

The campaign consists of sticking a “Made by Refugee” sticker on products that were invented by refugees, to show their contributions to society, alongside a series of posters doing the same.

It was started by Kien Quan and Jillian Young, two students from Miami Ad School in the US, proving that you don’t need years of experience or a powerhouse advertising agency behind you; just a great idea and the motivation to act.”

Courtesy of Kein Quan

Nicolas Roope, founder and creative director, Poke

“I’m a big fan of Nev Hyman’s Nev House, which I came across at entrepreneurial event Pitch at Palace last year. The Nev House uses modular blocks created from low-grade, plastic recyclables in various colours, which mean refugee populations displaced by disasters can get decent, cheap, storm-resistant housing. It also creates an incentive to clear up the abundance of plastic waste. I have really come to think of a great design as one that addresses wider context around the ‘product’ and this is a good example of a project that answers many problems in a neat, practical solution. Genius.”

Sarah Dickins, product design consultant, Kinneir Dufort

“Currently, one of the biggest problems that asylum seekers* face when they reach a new country is proving their identity. It’s very difficult for asylum seekers to open a bank account, access basic services or find work due to lack of acceptable ID, which often leads to homelessness. Having worked with homeless people in Bristol where I’m based, I’ve seen this issue first-hand.

The Welcome Card was designed by a team of Swedish designers to combat this problem. The physical ID card is accompanied by a digital platform where asylum seekers can access their application online, preventing important information getting lost.

Local councils could partner with the initiative to give card-holders access to basic public services.”

Courtesy of The Welcome Card

Ian Hambleton, CEO, Studio Output, courtesy of Studio Output

“The project that immediately comes to mind for me is Clouds over Sidra. This was created a few years back by virtual reality studio, led by founder Chris Milk, as a 360-degree video and virtual reality (VR) experience.

While I’m fairly anti-360-degree video VR, as I believe it’s quite a low-grade version of VR, at the time this was pretty forward-thinking. It also embraces one of VR’s key attributes — empathy.

As a medium, VR can be transformative and put you in places and environments you could never imagine. In Clouds over Sidra, you follow a 12-year-old girl who has spent the last 18 months in Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan.

Being able to ‘sit in’, hear the goings-on, and be ‘present’ in the camps gives people greater insight into what it is like, and that is hugely powerful.”

*According to Migrant Watch UK, an independent and non-political think-thank, an asylum seeker is someone who has claimed asylum on the grounds that if they were to return to their country there is a chance of persecution, and they will remain an asylum seeker until their application is approved. A refugee is an asylum seeker whose application has been successful, and an economic migrant is someone who has left their own country legally or illegally to work and make a living. Many asylum seekers are also economic migrants.

What do you think is the most successful design project created to help refugees and asylum seekers? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • James Phelan June 21, 2018 at 5:36 pm

    Hi Sarah, Phelan Barker, Essex based design consultancy have been very active in the UK working with IOM UK on their Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme. The outcome was an informative training manual which supports and enables instructors to introduce culturally complex issues to Syrian refugees to the UK. We are currently creating the branding and programme for the forth coming Singing Our Lives concert held during the end of Refugee Week 2018. If you would like more information please get in touch.

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