Using design skills to benefit people in disaster situations

Catastrophic world events inspired us to create an initiative at TDL-Creative called Crisis Infographics. The purpose of which is to explore possible applications of information design in assisting at-risk individuals in emergency and crisis situations.

We believe information design, and the communication skills that designers have, can be crucial in disaster situations. From preparing for the event to coping in the aftermath, we believe information design methods can save lives by ensuring communications are:

  • Inclusive
  • Easily understood
  • Understood quickly
  • Designed for action, rather than purely aesthetic
  • Clear, organised and concise

A blog post we wrote in 2015, ‘People in crisis need the help of information design’ provides a brief insight into current methods for designing crisis communications. We looked at four categories: Guides, Geographic descriptions, step-by-step instructions and education. To find out more, please read the blog post.


TDL case study projects

Using information design to help Syrian refugees winterise their homes.

Syrian refugees endure 'Alexa', their first winter storm
Syrian refugees endure ‘Alexa’, their first winter storm

CARE international asked for our help during the crisis in Syria when millions of people were fleeing the country. They urgently needed a leaflet to help refugees prepare for the colder months by ‘winterising’ their accommodation within neighbouring countries. We only had five days to design the document for immediate use within the refugee communities.

Our solution included minimal word symbolism, calls to action, a life-size measurement rule and easy to interpret line art, producing a design that won an international design award and is still in use by aid charities across the globe.

“The leaflets give clear and understandable guidance on how people can make whatever accommodation they are living in ready for winter. It can be the difference between life and death.”

Tom Newby, Emergency Shelter Team Leader, CARE International.

Our design solution showing the English and Arabic layouts of this A4 double sided leaflet.
Our design solution showing the English and Arabic layouts of this A4 double sided leaflet.

For a full summary of our design process for this project, please read our blog post: ‘Instruction manual design for Syrian refugees’


History of crisis infographics

We may be calling them ‘crisis infographics’ now, but graphic communications to illustrate things such as war and disease have been around for many years. The templates and design approaches we use today can often share a number of similarities to methods used tens of years ago. To see some of our comparisons, including World War I propaganda, evacuation plans and a 1916 disease poster, please see our ‘crisis information design throughout history’ blog post.

Poster in reaction to a polio epidemic in New York, 1916.
Poster in reaction to a polio epidemic in New York, 1916.


We’ve found a number of example crisis infographics so created Pinterest boards for them. Please note, these are not examples from TDL and show good, and bad, methods of portraying crisis information.

Warzone Infographics

TDL crisis infographics - war zones

Disease Epidemic Infographics

TDL crisis infographics - disease epidemics

Natural Disaster Infographics

TDL crisis infographics - natural disasters

Humanitarian Infographics

TDL crisis infographics - humanitarian

Aviation Infographics

TDL crisis infographics - aviation

Policing Infographics

TDL crisis infographics - policing

First Aid Emergency

TDL crisis infographics - first aid emergency

Survival Infographics

TDL crisis infographics - survival infographics

Evacuation Plans

TDL crisis infographics - evacuation plans

Research and ongoing work

There are a number of examples of crisis infographics we have found that utilise information design techniques and design methods to enable clear understanding.

However, we have found it difficult to find examples that have been provided to at-risk people within developing countries. These communications would be a great challenge to any designer as traditional approaches may not be understood, and meanings misinterpreted. We predict the following challenges would need to be addressed:

  • Design speed and rapid design development
  • User testing and working with the readers
  • Interpretation, e.g. icons Vs illustration
  • Cost of deployment – printing on site in disaster zones
  • Language barriers
  • Understanding of common design layouts, e.g. timelines and step-by-step

Due to the extreme situations when these crisis infographics would be required, we think developments in this area could have a profound effect on the people reading the information. It is pure information design, where branding and ‘look & feel’ take a back seat, whereas clear understanding and user-centric design are at the forefront of graphic communication solutions.


Do you have a crisis communications project?

We are keen to hear from any organisations who would like to create, or improve, their communications for the benefit of people in crisis situations. If you would like to discuss your project then please email [email protected].

We understand that some of the most important projects unfortunately don’t have a large budget for professional communications where it really matters, so at TDL we have created a pro bono system for projects that really make a difference to people’s lives. Please get in touch for more information.


Image credits