It was only back in February that home secretary Priti Patel labelled any person earning less than £25,000 a year a “low skilled” or “unskilled” worker. Now, amid the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, it is those workers who are helping to prop up the country in lockdown.
As much of the country adjusts to life in lockdown, nurses, carers, delivery drivers, supermarket workers and more have, for the last few weeks, been performing their vital roles under a new moniker: “Key Workers”.
With this in mind, designer Craig Oldham, founder and creative director at the Office of Craig Oldham studio, has created a poster to show solidarity with the UK’s Key Workers and highlight the “hypocrisy” of those who only months ago felt they were unskilled.
The piece features a list of the country’s Key Workers, which range from drivers and teaching assistants, to warehouse workers and midwives. It is an extensive collection of job titles, but Oldham says it is not exhaustive.
“Getting the list was an issue as the government refuse to publish a list,” he tells Design Week. “Either it’s too complex to do so, or they are passing responsibility over to others, you can make your own call on that.”
Writ large across the list is the phrase: “May they never be deemed ‘low skilled’ again”.
The design elements, Oldham says, are “straightforward”. The graphic uses a prototype typeface designed by Oldham’s friend and collaborator Timothy Donaldson had been working on, called Proletariat (“It might be obvious why,” says Oldham).
Another regular collaborator, Jon Hatton, helped Oldham typeset the piece.
“Creativity is crucial”
As Oldham points out, the term “Key Workers” is just one of many new phrases that have made their way into the public lexicon via the pandemic, but the work these people have been doing stretches far before coronavirus.
“It has taken a global pandemic for the government to recognise the value of all of its citizens and workforces,” he says, adding that Priti Patel’s comments back in February came across to him as a “weird form of snobbery”.
The aim, Oldham says, is to ensure that people remember the value that Key Workers brought to the country long after the pandemic is finished.
“I hope the term key workers remains in place long after this is over,” he says. “These workers haven’t just become key to society, they always have been, and will continue to be, Key Workers.”
And while he is not convinced by any means that one graphic has the power to solve the crisis, Oldham says creativity is an important coping mechanism.
“This pandemic isn’t going to be suddenly solved because a piece of graphic design was created, particularly on a professional level,” he says. “But I think that creativity is absolutely crucial.
“People have always turned to creativity during times of hardship. Creativity can help one process something, even deal with an emotion, or state, feeling or issue and can be a way through things for people, and this isolation and crisis is no different.”
The poster is part of the Isolation Nation group exhibition from Liverpool-based studio Dorothy. The showcase, which is being held online, aims to tackle the theme of creativity in the age of coronavirus lockdown.
It will also be put up across Manchester with the help of creative agency Jack Arts and is available for free download from the Dorothy website, with the hope that people will display the message in their homes and workplaces.
With this project, Oldham joins an ever-growing list of creatives who have used their craft to convey vital public health and social messages amid the coronavirus pandemic.
You can now buy copies of the poster from https://keyworkers.support. All proceeds will go to Eat Well MCR, an organisation that is helping to feed frontline NHS workers, women seeking refuge, homeless people and those living in food poverty.