By Nyasha Laing
The on-air virtual sets designed by Venezuelan designer Clo Blanco for Arise TV in New York were just what the broadcasting network needed to boost its urban Diaspora-themed brand. Audacious kaleidoscopes of urban icons and images, they danced with bright colors on the in-studio backdrops, enriching the viewing experience. Blanco, an art director and designer experienced in multi-platform media and brand strategy, had flexed her skills in several industries. But it was Arise’s mission, people, and global imprint that drew her in.
In 2015, Blanco found another opportunity that gave her creative freedom. A chance meeting with Felipe Cala, the Colombian, Princeton-educated Global Advocacy and Policy Advisor at ChildFund Alliance, later led to an opportunity to work on a children’s book version of the Sendai Framework for Risk Reduction. Last March at the Third UN World Conference in Sendai, Japan, 193 countries adopted this Framework to reduce the impacts of natural and human-made disasters. The children’s book version of the document was produced for a coalition between ChildFund, Save the Children, UNICEF and World Vision International, and it offered Blanco an opportunity to expand her portfolio of socially and culturally relevant design.
Charged with developing original images for the children’s book, Blanco called upon her artist child. She doodled on white paper. The stick-like figures were reminiscent of her paintings, fibrous sketches with black hard brush strokes, or brightly-colored tapestries of the same characters. But they were more childlike. They also sent a message: "You can be creative too. You don't have to be perfect to be cool," said Blanco.
Blanco also had to experiment until she found an emotional resonance that was still playful. The project needed something "cool enough for kids that [was] emotionally acceptable for adults," said Blanco.
Global campaigns on issues from climate change awareness to HIV/AIDS reduction have embraced the need for effective design. Sometimes, well-intended projects miss the point - like giving out clothes without long-sleeved women’s shirts, or tampons, after an earthquake. Other times, the language doesn’t reflect the local culture or diversity of the community. The ChildFund’s Sendai campaign reimagines the language of disaster for the most vulnerable: children in countries like Honduras, Haiti, or Indonesia. But women and children, often hardest hit by disasters, are more than victims. They have great capacity to prepare their communities for disaster and to participate in the recovery process, say disaster reduction advocates.
Through the design process, ChildFund and other agencies work to include local communities in coming up with appropriate messaging for children around issues of disaster prevention, climate change, and risk reduction. But if design has become a tool to empower vulnerable groups to participate in development, it is ultimately because of the willingness of artists to embrace their unique power to create social change.
For Blanco, design is a tool both practical and visionary. Unlike music or the written word, the field offers a broad suite of tools – from animation to video to graphics and typography. Facilitating all kinds of expression expands the ability to directly impact lives.
But it takes precision and sensitivity to speak to every audience. “I strongly believe in the social relevance of graphic design,” said Blanco. “A proper visual identity is like grammar: if we don't write the message correctly, it becomes unreadable, or simply incomprehensible.”
As a multi-cultural Venezuelan artist, this is not an academic exercise for Blanco. Her earliest experiences were shaped by the diversity of Caracas and the rich narratives of her father’s Cuba – across the Caribbean Sea. Today, when she paints her liquid figures, she is still inspired by the humanity of that region – the daily connections of the people to the land and to each-other. Her memories of a home that she finds it hard to return due to economic and political instability have also shaped her notion of design as social transformation, said Blanco.
“It is just human...to not want to see what's difficult or that which scares us,” said Blanco. “We turn our head away from painful social and political situations…because there is only so much we can tolerate.”
And that makes for an extraordinary challenge, said Blanco – how to translate critical information, stories, and human resilience in an “effective, precise, condensed way.”
More from living