UnderCover: Disaster Posters—The Debate

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Disaster Posters—The Debate

homepage of www.causefordesign.co created by David + Ashley Yousling

I came across a great post about 'disaster posters' by Orlando artist, designer and blogger Jason Dean. You can read it here. Below is an excerpt:
I'm taking a break today from the usual link dump to address a trend I personally find disturbing, and hopefully get your opinion on the subject. As we've all seen with the current situation in Japan, the horrors of natural disaster inspire designers to create posters, of which proceeds go to help fund recovery efforts. This in itself is a noble act, we all want to do what we can when we witness fellow humans in dire need of assistance. We do what we know, and poster designers create posters. Sometimes, however, I think we lose sight of the purpose of the poster itself and instead create misguided monuments to our own ego, adding yet another piece to an already huge pile of production and consumption...

Jason is responding to posters made about the Japanese earthquake. But he got me thinking about all the poster projects I've been a fan of and how they could be perceived as a negative (or at least ill-conceived) action.

This was my comment to Jason's post:
First off, thank you for this thoughtful post.

I've seen a lot of re-circulating of Japanese earthquake posters (I have done it myself). And I've seen a few antagonistic comments condemning those same posters, their creators, and the design community at large for praising and promoting them. But your post was the first to really address the issue.

I'm of two minds about 'disaster posters'. One one side, I feel the creators are honestly trying to help. I am a big fan of both the Haiti Poster Project and of the Hurricane Poster Project from a few years ago. I think they rallied the creative community and did a lot of good by encouraging artistic exploration and, of course, raising money.

On the other side, I agree that images that focus on the disaster aspect of the situation instead of the hope/help side can seem to be trivializing the calamity of others. (I think it's interesting to note that man-made calamities such as the BP oil spill also generated grim, hopeless, and sometimes glib imagery, but for some reason those seems less morally reprehensible.)

It seems that some the commenters above who are trying to define a conciliatory position focus on the location and the duration of displaying the posters. Office vs home (public vs private display) and long-term vs short-term (limited call to action vs morbid memento). These are issues of context.

I think other issues are:

• tone (What is an appropriate tone when representing the loss of human life?)
• intent (How do you judge if the purpose is to help others or to self promote? And what if the creator is doing both simultaneously?)
• uniqueness/cleverness of concept (Do design elegance and cleverness—or lack thereof—compete with the tone of calamity?)
• desecration of national symbols (Is manipulating the Japanese flag necessarily akin to disrespect? Or only when the result is trite?)
• context (Where can one display a disaster poster and for how long before it becomes an indecent fetish?)

I have no pat answers…. but I hope your post generates more discussion!
What are your thoughts on the issue?

1 comment:

  1. Empathy is the critical thing. If designers are trying to understand, and to help others understand, it's positive. If it's a design exercise, and not based in bringing us together, it's reprehensible. These posters are designer as artist, so what is the artist's intention. That's my take. Cameron