Design Resources for Helping Haiti

The heartwrenching catastrophe in Haiti has left designers wondering what they can do to help. In the
days immediately following the earthquake, the AIGA’s Richard Grefe
offered the organization’s perspective on the tragedy,
suggesting that designers could help the most by giving donations to
organizations that are already doing effective work in the nation. “We
believe the most important need now is not to have a separate
charitable or action-related activity for designers,” he wrote, “but to
help those with experience seeking to work miracles on the ground.”

But as we learned following the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in
New Orleans and by the 2004 tsunami
in Asia, designers can lend their expertise to a number of recovery projects, even from afar. Shortly after the quake, numerous websites and
information resources sprang up. The
site “Survivors of Haiti’s earthquake” and the Google-powered “Person Finder
app allow loved ones and other users to post queries about the missing; both sites have a
fittingly straightforward design that provides the necessary
information and interactive features without frills. MapAction and Ushahidi have combined maps with information and statistics to help the search and recovery effort. The Extraordinaires set up an iPhone and online app that uses crowdsourcing to identify people shown in news photos. The technology advocacy group CrisisCommons arranged several conferences to create information technology
tools that would aid disaster-relief efforts. One of those tools would
provide real-time data about the capacity of hospitals throughout the
country so that responders know where to take the injured.

InterAction compiled a list of organizations working in Haiti,
and there are many ways that designers can give their support to these organizations and the individuals that have mobilized to help the
country. Aspiring volunteers should temper their desire to help with
awareness that many organizations now must focus solely on the rescue
effort; yet in the future weeks and months, NGOs and nonprofits will
need assistance communicating the ongoing urgency of the need to help
the country and to fundraise. The new organizations emerging in the
aftermath will need assistance with communication and design strategy, and events will need posters, brochures, and visual communication of all kinds.

Designers can also use their purchasing power to help by buying
supplies and services from businesses that have committed to assisting
Haiti. Even before the earthquake, Print
For Change, a full-service printer based in White Bear Lake, Minnesota,
had established itself as a social capitalist venture that donates 50
percent of its profits to a faith-based organization that helps
Haitians. The non-profit, Healing Haiti,
been delivering food and clean water to Haitians, and
it has built a home for orphaned children. After the quake, the
company began helping to purchase and distribute emergency medical and
food supplies in addition to its ongoing charitable efforts.

The organization charity:water, recipient of a $60,000 donation from Shutterstock, is also developing plans to provide Haitians with access to clean water in
the aftermath of the massive destruction of infrastructure in the

In these, as in other disaster-relief projects, the question remains
to what degree design materials–websites, printed materials, online
communities–can be crafted and to what degree they will be created on
an improvised basis in the middle of crisis situations. By helping
Haiti and her citizens now, designers can not only save lives, but also
develop the tools to ensure that the response in future disasters can
be more effective.