COVID 19: A Crucible of Creativity

Will Novosedlik salutes crisis-driven conceptual ingenuity

April 16, 2020

COVID 19: A Crucible of Creativity

Lead image:  The Other Guys  

There’s a scene in the 1984 film Starman in which an alien visitor, played by Jeff Bridges, makes an uplifting observation about humans: “You are at your best when things are at their worst.”

Human history has certainly served up plenty of evidence, chief of which is the fact that after so many plagues, wars, and natural disasters, we are still here. And in greater numbers than ever. 


There’s no question however that our numbers will face a dramatic reduction before this plague has been brought to heel by a vaccine. How big those numbers are will depend on our ability to stop the spread by working together on mitigation and suppression.


To quote another Hollywood film, 1995’s Get Shorty, starring John Travolta, “Sometimes you do your best work with a gun to your head.” C-19 has certainly provided the gun. The creative response from most sectors of human activity has been and will continue to be vigorous, inventive and perhaps as game-changing as the pandemic itself.


While manufacturers retool, researchers race to discover a vaccine, doctors, nurses and first responders risk their lives to save ours, the graphic design community, in its own less existential but vital way, is contributing to the fight. Firms like The Other Guys (above) and individuals like Louis Fischauf and Derwyn Goodall (below) have joined the fray and encouraged their followers to download their images to help build awareness of key public service messages.

Credit: Louis Fischauf

Credit: Derwyn Goodall

While there is a flood of COVID-washing going on in the form of brands trying to assure us that ‘we are all in this together”, some agencies are using their resources to deliver effective PSA messages. McCann’s work for Mucinex and Zulu Alpha Kilo’s PSA (below) are good examples.

 Credit: McCann

 Credit: Zulu Alpha Kilo

Editorial designers and illustrators are in their element in these conditions, and the conceptual ingenuity that has always characterized the best practitioners is on full display, as seen below in the work of Quebec-based illustrator Sébastien Thibault and the magazine covers for The Economist and the New Yorker.

Credit: Sébastien Thibault

As grave as this pandemic is becoming, there’s always room for humour, a necessary balm in the face of such overwhelming stress. Jennifer Baer’s ironically retro PSA messages below fit the bill.

Credit: Jennifer Baer

While most brands in pre-COVID days never even thought about social impact but are now scrambling to sound empathetic, brands that have always been purpose-driven sound all the more authentic in the middle of a plague.

Dove, perhaps one of the most famously purpose-driven brands out there, is continuing to embrace social impact with its Courage campaign by Ogilvy, which honours frontline medical workers and is providing financial support to protect them and provide the equipment they need to do their lifesaving work.

Humorously or seriously, the creative imagination of designers, art directors photographers and illustrators has been ignited. Everybody has a part to play in stopping the spread.