Creatives, we’re finally reaching the tail end of 2020; as extraordinary and challenging a year as any. In the last 12 months, we have had to stop, pivot, adapt, cancel plans, shake-up systems, shift perspectives, and begin again — all the while asking: what can design really do in times of Corona? The answers we found, and the stories we’ve written about on this blog, have been by turns uplifting and sobering.
As we cast our eyes towards 2021, we hope you enjoy this look back at one of the longest-running series on our blog; a collection of more than 60 articles highlighting the creative world’s most inspiring and innovative design responses for surviving (and thriving) in a pandemic. From schemes for social distancing, to notes on bread baking and tools for decolonising design, here is a tour of our top 10 stories of the year, as picked by our readers and editors.
MOST-READ IN 2020
Back in March, as the first wave of COVID-19 knocked us off of our feet, we published an open letter to our creative community. In it, we talked about the challenges ahead, and the importance of responding with purpose, positivity and resilience. We also asked: Can this crisis be a turning point for humanity, with lasting and beneficial effects? Can we bring people together in new ways? And how can designers help to reboot a world in need of a clean start?
In the chaotic weeks that followed, many of us gravitated towards content that was practical and actionable. Maybe it was because we found a sense of agency (and a good measure of distraction) in being creatively productive. Hardly surprising then, that a DIY tutorial became one of our most-shared stories of the year. In response to the shortage of protective equipment around the world, waste textile artist Femke van Gemert compiled this step-by-step video guide to making your own face mask, using leftover materials that can be found around the house. A story which did similarly well is our report on the Funtastic Masks project in Brazil, which produces beautiful and environmentally friendly masks with riverside communities in the Amazon.
innovative Hand-washing stations pop up across Africa
Also popular with our readers were stories celebrating ingenious design responses from different parts of the world. As the pandemic made its way through the African continent for example, a spate of local challenges demanded more agile, local solutions. Case in point: in parts of Ghana, Lesotho and Kenya, a wave of creative entrepreneurs had started making and hacking innovative new forms of hand–washing stations — from solar-powered sinks to hands-free taps — to promote hygiene in areas with little access to running water.
From temporary ICU’s to 3D printed visors and an instant virus hotel: the month of April saw architects and engineers leap into action. In this article, The Royal Institute of Dutch Architects (BNA) teamed up with WDCD to list the initiatives that best show off the adaptability and agility of the architectural trade.
They also bring up important questions about the future of healthcare design, including quantity issues and the idea of adding hyper-local and small-scale hospital facilities to the system, as well as ‘hospital-at-home’ solutions.
A Hand signal for help
The last pick on our reader’s list explores the complex social impact of lockdown regulations. As most of the world sought refuge indoors, reports of domestic violence skyrocketed. To support those at risk, activists in the US and Canada have devised a discreet hand signal that can be used to alert others during a video call. In this popular article, we learn more about the goals of the global campaign, and explain how to respond when you see the signal.
Remember when everyone you knew got really into baking bread? What was that all about? Like any good investigative journalist would do, we went to expert bread artist, Lexie Smith, for answers. She wrote: “Some folks have lost their jobs and are looking for ways to keep feeding themselves and their families, while others are looking for distraction, a hobby, a way to provide for their community, or just therapy… All metaphorical intonations of bread as life, bread as livelihood, bread as money, as body, have melted pretty quickly into the real.”
We’re taking another look at this article to refresh ourselves on the joys of sourdough, and how bread-baking can be viewed as barometer for social change.
Artist and philosopher Koert van Mensvoort has never shied away from the big questions. As creative director of the Next Nature Network, his designs and fictions always hit right to the core of what it means to be human in a time of profound technological and ecological change. What impact has COVID-19 had on his ideas? In this beautifully written op-ed written from the Dutch countryside, Koert offers a glimpse into the lessons he’s looking for in the pandemic.
On the 25th of May 2020, George Floyd was murdered by police officers in the United States. Awakened once again to the truth of our racial justice crisis, the streets (and the tweets) erupted in protest, and the Black Lives Matter movement gained a momentum that the world hadn’t seen in many, many years. As the creative industries moved to reflect and respond, writer Anoushka Khandwala penned an urgent and powerful essay for WDCD on what it means to decolonise design, and why in anti-racist work, we must “focus on who we are as human beings, rather than just as designers.”
We also wanted to give a shout-out to our Visual Relief series, which celebrates the artwork of illustrators and graphic designers who help us make sense of the world we live in. Past editions include a glance at Edel Rodriguez’ bold and bracing political cartoons, Happy Data’s small but mighty numbers, and our favourite prints from the Beirut Editions art sale.
Last but not least, here’s a project that got a few tongues wagging. ‘Parc de la Distance’ is a maze-like park for social distancing, designed by Studio Precht in Austria. Here, tall hedges in swirling patterns offer visitors a safe, solitary stroll, and a sense of “being alone in public.” Though the park is a proposal for Vienna, Precht believes the concept could benefit city-dwellers in other parts of the world, even after the pandemic is over. The idea garnered mixed responses from the design crowd, who worried that this was a pretty but ineffective band-aid to what is really a complex urban problem.
What is certain is that speculative designs like these ask interesting questions about the future of our public spaces. As we approach a ‘new normal’ this is still a dilemma facing architects and city planners everywhere: when should we design in favour of social distancing, and when do we choose to foster better social connection? Can we do both?