(Graphic) Design Like You Give a Damn

Following up recent discussions about Cameron Sinclair's work with communities to build architecture that emerges from and embraces culture in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and India, the story of graphic designer Wendy MacNaughton's work on a get-out-the-vote campaign for Rwanda's first democratic local elections in 2001 gets, well, a thumbs up. To promote voter turnout, MacNaughton had to "communicate equally to literate and non-literate voters, and be extremely sensitive to ethnicity and ethnic, political and economic division." The thumbs-up graphic, accompanied by the phrase "We vote," made sense to everyone since all legal documents in Rwanda are verified using a thumbprint. What's most interesting, though, is how MacNaughton had to adapt to regional differences.

When she discovered her Mac was incompatible with the PCs ubiquitous in the country, and that photography couldn't be used since it wouldn't fit the vernacular style of the area and might underscore racial differences, she created hand-drawn images on scratch board as well as flyers and stencils. But what she knew of even these media required some creative adaptation:
There is no graffiti in Rwanda. In part, this is because there isn't any spray paint. In not considering this detail beforehand, I found myself with a stack of stencils, and no paint. A man I met at a car repair shop offered to “import” the spray paint from Congo. The paints came through without a problem and luckily USAID didn't ask too many questions.

Accustomed to buying spraymount at the corner store, I never considered how the posterswould hang on buildings and walls, let alone on trees and traditional huts. Tape and glue was scarce and too expensive to use. I shared my dilemma with a local shopkeeper from India. He suggested I make glue from a mixture of water and flour. Then I was told that sponges were too valuable to be used for gluing and that people would keep them for home use. I asked around and learned that hand brooms made of dried grass could also be used as a brush.
Read more at the Design Altruism Project. Via Speak Up.

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