Alissa Eckert, a medical illustrator at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, helped create the visual shorthand for Covid-19, an instantly recognizable and easily reproduced spiky blob. With a need for clear and direct public information, it has become a critical messaging tool during the pandemic. Creatives Tegen Corona is a collective of Antwerp designers that worked with local manufacturers, fashion workshops, and community sewing clubs to create 100,000 pieces of PPE. It posted patterns and specifications on the internet, where they could be downloaded free. Roya Mahboob is an Afghan tech entrepreneur, philanthropist, and founder of the non-profit Digital Citizen Fund (DCF), dedicated to increasing the tech savvy and skills of Afghan women and girls. One of DCF’s projects saw five teenage girl roboticists in HerÄt design and produce emergency ventilators. Marco Ranieri, head of anaesthesiology and intensive care at one of the largest hospitals in Bologna, ‘hacked’ ventilator design so that one unit could ventilate two people at the same time, a vital innovation in critical over-stretched ICUs.
These are just some of the disparate collection of ‘design practitioners’ interviewed by the design writer Alice Rawsthorn (left) and Paola Antonelli (top left), senior curator at the department of architecture and design, and director of research and development at MoMA, for Design Emergency, their COVID response and recovery-focused Instagram Live series. It has become a repository for stories of urgent and improvised problem-solving and now an ideas bank, a place to talk about how designers and design’s rigorous research and dedication to elegant efficacy will be central to any post-COVID reboot or renewal.
Rawsthorn, author of Design as an Attitude and Hello World: Where Design Meets Life, and former design columnist for the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times, has developed a sizeable Instagram following over the last five years, with a more considered, thematic approach and bigger chunks of expository text than is usual for the platform. As the Covid crisis took hold, she dedicated much of her feed to a series she called Design in a Pandemic.
‘Design is such a ubiquitous force, rooted in every aspect of our lives. As soon as the pandemic hit, my instinct was to investigate it through design,’ Rawsthorn says. ‘And as tragic as the pandemic has been, it also became an extraordinary platform for design, and made clear how resourceful, courageous, gutsy, public-spirited, and empathetic designers could be.’ Over regular Zoom catch-ups with Rawsthorn, Antonelli – a member of the crisis management team that helped MoMA navigate its way through the Covid catastrophe in New York – suggested that design’s response to the circumstances was worthy of an even deeper dive.
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