Call to Action: Students respond Graphically to the Haiti Earthquake

Call to Action: Students respond Graphically to the Haiti Earthquake

by Steve Jones

We were all shocked and saddened to bear witness to the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti January 12, 2010. After seeing the aftermath, I knew, as a designer and instructor, I had to respond.

I always regretted not doing a project with my students in response to the U.S. invasion in Iraq. I knew after the Haiti quake, I couldn’t stand by on the sidelines—the event demanded a graphic response. Upon returning from my Winter Break, I assigned the students in my Typography class (San Francisco State University), the task of designing a response to illustrate the aftermath of the earthquake.

The students were directed to create a typographic response to the devastation. I gave the students as their only source material, the word “Haiti.” They were instructed that they could reinterpret the word and generate it any way in which they saw fit. The one parameter, was that their response had to be a typographic metaphor (abstraction) to the event(s), or an event that had taken place. The typographic response could focus on the earthquake itself, a story of survival, a person/people, news story, etc. The project had a quick turnaround—students began by researching stories via the web (YouTube, CNN, blogs, etc.), newspapers, magazines – any relevant source material. They were encouraged to consider Haiti’s history, politics, religion, economics, geography, nature, etc., as part of their outcome. I advised them to explore concepts of time and place (hours, tent cities, etc)—to open their mind, to think metaphorically and not be afraid to think outside the box.

The final outcome was a 30”x40” poster. B/W plus one color. No imagery. I was truly amazed by the outcomes. Here are four I thought were representative of the work.

Poster 1: Lisa Durante. Lisa tapped into a very visceral theme – the sheer numbers of the dead. Lisa created a response that accounted for the 250,000 dead bodies, each one represented by the word “Haiti.” Throughout the despair and death, the word Haiti is still defiant, unyielding, able to be still be seen and acknowledged.

Poster 2: Frank Ali. Frank’s message is intentionally muddled. The word “HAITI” takes a while to be seen; it’s meant to confuse the eye, make the viewer actually lost in the rubble. Frank drew inspiration from stories of survivors being rescued from the rubble of buildings after days on end of no hope in sight. He wanted to show a glimpse of that hope through the hectic mess. Trapped under all the black dust and rubble, one can still see the sky however. One can still see that pleasant blue color, that gives one hope when you have none.

Poster 3: Carlos Rubio. Carlos’ poster was simple in its powerful simplicity. Using the letters that spell Haiti, Carlos in one, clear execution shows two “figures” in embrace that illustrates the fear, support, and hope experienced being caught under the rubble of a collapsed building.


Steve Jones is a graphic designer. Mr. Jones received his BFA in Graphic Design from The California College of the Arts (CCA, formerly CCAC) and his MFA in Graphic Design, with honors, from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Steve is an award winning graphic designer and exhibiting artist. His approach to graphic design combines the personal with the formal and functional. His interests focus on Black icons and their representation in mass media and popular culture, identity politics and public art. He is the Principal and Creative Director of plantain: a design studio, in Oakland, CA. He is the founder of the NEA (Negro Emancipation Association), a Bay Area design collaborative. He has taught at RISD, CCA, and SF State University (where he is an Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Coordinator in the Design and Industry Department). He is a member of the Alameda County Public Arts Advisory Committee. Jones can be reached at plantain studio:, and his website:


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