Graphic designers hold valuable skills in an attention economy. Designers can contribute their professional skills on pro bono platforms like Catchafire, where design is one of the top-requested services from social organizations.

Pro Bono Graphic Design

Designers Aaron Perry-Zucker and Max Slavkin started the Design for Obama platform in a dorm room to collect poster submissions from designers around the world. They later repurposed the platform to allow designers to contribute their professional work on behalf of the earthquake in Haiti (Design for Haiti) and the tsunami in Japan (Design for Japan), with hundreds of posters submitted, and all sales benefitting aid efforts. The community of designers has evolved into the Creative Action Network, which has begun to organize the creative community around other social issues like gun control.

Graphic designers have contributed their talents to other movements and aid efforts, as well. Occupy Design helped brand and communicate a protest movement and its encampments. Like CrisisCamps, Iconathons bring together designers to create public domain icons to improve communication and wayfaring in disaster relief, clean water, investigative journalism, and the American Red Cross.

Participatory Storytelling

Documentarians, reporters, and other storytellers are also well-positioned to drive broader attention to a crisis or the needs of a population, even without a traditional distribution model for their films. Invisible Children’s KONY2012 documentary used social media distribute the fastest-spreading viral video of all time. Few would have ever predicted that this title would go to a 30-minute documentary about Uganda.

18 Days in Egypt is an incredibly successful crowdsourced documentary capturing Egypt’s revolution through many different perspectives. The film has been screened around the country and world.

The Sandy Storyline project is another participatory documentary to collect stories from the affected communities in New York. The project has collected over 250 individual stories and organized media education for 100 more. The stories have been collected with the help of Vojo, a tool that allows people with landlines and basic cellphones to call in and record their tales to the online collection.

Another major player in this space is Global Voices, a community spanning the globe with hundreds of volunteer writers and translators. These not only capture stories in places that the professional international media neglects to cover, but also translate and contextualize these events to make them relevant to broader audiences in other places around the world. This act of translating, contextualizing, and amplifying stories may well have helped the protests in Tunisia to spread, leading to Ben Ali’s downfall and the ignition of the Arab Spring.