Design Resources for Helping Haiti

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By Jeremy Lehrer

Screenshot from Ushahidi

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."

Screenshot from Ushahidi

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 an 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, has 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 country.

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.

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