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COVIDesign: As Little As Possible, ASAP

by Edvardas Kavarskas on 04/28/2020 | 3 Minute Read

Some observers will tell you that we are in an unprecedented situation, one where health and economic crisis meet. Others say that we are at the state of war. 

Those others might be right. If so, then humankind has faced various battles many times. Science, business, and design have reflected public needs under challenging times again and again. The question is, how much design do we need in the face of survival? 

The answer? As little as possible to serve the purpose. ASAP.

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During the month after COVID-19 hit Europe and the USA, MIT figured out how to build an open-source ventilator with about $100 worth of common parts. Fashion houses are repurposing their production facilities to the creation of respirators and protective clothes. Meanwhile, producers of cosmetics and spirits have turned their plants into hand sanitizer production lines.

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Let’s consider the parallel between war and pandemic design. Take a closer look at the examples below to compare usual combat packaging and the packaging in the age of Coronavirus.

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Luxury giant LVMH has started to produce and deliver hand sanitizer to the health authorities in France. From the government’s request to the first batch in just 72 hours. Moreover, it happened over a weekend, from Friday to Monday. Plenty of other leading cosmetics brands have supported their national health systems at top speed.

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Colgate-Palmolive is supporting the World Health Organization’s effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 by producing a soap bar with instructions on proper handwashing. A lack of knowledge on how to properly wash hands is a challenge, especially in vulnerable communities. So these guidelines must be easily understandable, just like combat medical packaging or portable defibrillator instructions.

One after the other, spirits and beer brewing companies have chosen to convert their facilities to help in the battle. Bacardi, Ramazzotti, AB InBev, and Brewdog—you name it.

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So what do military design and pandemic design have in common? 

Firstly, it presents a functional, even utilitarian text-based design without almost any attention for decoration. It’s curious to see how similar LVMH’s hand sanitizer looks like Christian Dior’s soap bottle label, and it makes you wonder if it has been printed correctly at the factory. What’s the purpose of this product? Safety. ASAP. Does this label design help to inform about the function? Yes. Like MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat), a military ration's primary purpose is to neutralize hunger while its packaging design tells what you are going to get once you open it without any of the frills or excess design flourishes.

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Secondly, these actions are a mix of brand values and public communications, so breaking news style images that create the feeling of a live stream from the battlefront is a part of this game.

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What's next? With every disruption to our lives, COVID-19 will reflect itself in all forms of design—from fashion to packaging. And this won't just be for 2020, as this could very well carry on into the following year.

Likely, we have not seen the last of this utilitarian, text-based, and military-inspired packaging. 

MRE images: Henry Hargreaves, Jimmy Pham, Chuck George

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