Compassionate Graphic Design Leads to Disaster Porn

If you haven’t heard of the devastating 8.9 earthquake that struck Japan and the resulting tsunami, you’re living under a rock (and probably not actually reading this site). The outpouring of support is inspiring in the face of a very, real tragedy.

I was a little surprised to see a large number of visual artists, including graphic designers, rush to create pieces inspired by the disaster and recovery—with proceeds donated to various charities. It’s amazing how quickly they responded. We’re talking original, full-scale prints with the possibility of multiple runs and an opportunity to bring in countless dollars. Many of these pieces are beautiful and capture the simplicity of Japanese art and are reaping thousands of dollars for recovery.

As designers, our primary goal is to create a solution to a problem in an aesthetically pleasing way where function precedes form but both are equally important. As artists, our primary goal is to create an aesthetically pleasing product often driven by emotion with fewer constraints and expectations. I see how those roles played into the creation of these pieces.

I also understand the emotional response to the tragedy in Japan, but one of the first things I did upon learning of the earthquake was text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to donate $10. I’ve done it three times so far and encouraged everyone in my social networks to do the same. Each time was quick and painless. It was the fastest, most effective, and efficient way to help. Nothing wasted (notably: fossil fuels, time, paper, ink, valuable resources, energy, etc). The money was transferred to the Red Cross instantly.

Simplicity—a Japanese ideal that I appreciate and that drove my actions.

I’m certainly not attacking these artists and designers. Humans certainly feel compelled to act in the face of tragedy; artists feel the need to create in these circumstances to express their emotions.

Still, my main conflict is more so with the audience buying these pieces like pieces of Justin Bieber’s locks of hair. This disaster isn’t a pop star in a tabloid. This is millions upon millions of lives thrown into limbo facing death, nuclear meltdowns, and utter destruction. Who wants designer disaster porn on their wall? It’s not humbling. It’s not a peaceful reminder of the fragility of humanity or our Earth. It’s grotesque. It’s post-modern consumerism attempting to parade as humanitarianism. It’s disaster porn.

Have we as humans become so narcissistic and self-involved that we can’t even give to those in need without expecting something in return or needing a fucking carrot on a string to act? If so, we’ve learned nothing from the tragedies that have stricken Japan and humbled their nation.

Below, you’ll find some creative and brilliant designs. If you’re like me, you find them beautiful and interesting, but can’t figure out the perfect spot to hang a memory of a tragedy.