A very enjoyable aspect of our work here at Gigantic is that we often team up with artists who bring their creativity and skills to bear for environmental behavior change.
One such collaborator is Darrell Hunger, an industrial designer with a passion for applying his creativity to solve environmental problems. A hard-to-find hybrid of nuts-n-bolts pragmatism and artistic vision, Darrell has been instrumental to many of the interactive displays and games we’ve designed for our clients over the past years. For the City of Oakland’s “test your cart smarts” event booth, Darrell turned curbside carts into a life-size sort game, complete with fake moldy peaches and carefully sauce-smeared take-out containers as “game pieces.”
Most recently, Darrell helped us build a game for StopWaste to help people learn the best way to store fruits and veggies, so they stay fresher longer and there’s less food waste. Looking a bit like a doll’s kitchen, the game lets players open cabinets and a fridge and peek under empty bowls sitting on the counter to find images of the foods they’re tasked to “store.” From tiny hinges to mini door handles and a sturdy collapsible stand for the game, Darrell helped us think through the design and put it all together.
With such a unique skill set, it’s not a surprise Darrell is a regular at Burning Man, specifically a member of the Earth Guardians, Burning Man’s environmental crew. They are the ones in charge of enforcing the organization’s “Leave No Trace” (LNT) policy—essentially returning Black Rock Desert to its natural state each year, as if the weeklong, crazy circus of 70,000 revelers never happened. And it’s serious business, not an esoteric goal: LNT is a requirement written into the Special Event Permit and contract Burning Man has with Nevada’s Bureau of Land Management.
For the Earth Guardians, this means recruiting, training and overseeing an army of volunteers who check on camps to make sure no gray water or automotive fluids are leaking on the desert floor, keeping people out of the hot springs, and collecting MOOP—or “Matter Out Of Place” as defined by Burning Man. This truly means anything that wasn’t originally part of Black Rock Desert, no matter how small, including beads and feathers broken loose from costumes, tiny litter pieces, wood chips and even the ash from cigarettes. To make the tedious un-MOOPing at least a bit more pleasant, volunteers get “MOOP bags” to collect the debris, sewn out of old jeans and ties months before the event by Darrell and his crew. But the Earth Guardians may already face another challenge: “Micro MOOP” such as body glitter and other particles that even the most diligent unMOOPing can’t retrieve.
Lucky for Burners (and the rest of the world) Darrell is a master of reuse and waste prevention, and shares his skills and knowledge widely. At this year’s Burning Man, his repair workshop “Glue, screw, patch: How to fix things that break, are worn or want to be repurposed” was a huge hit. In his typical hands-on style, Darrell showed participants the best uses of glues, screws, splints and other repair tools, and fixed broken objects brought to the class. Way to go Darrell!
A stunning art installation featuring the plight of political prisoners around the world got me thinking about, yes, recycling campaigns. In addition to being a moving experience, the @Large exhibit by Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei , on now at Alcatraz Island, nicely illustrates the stages we consider when designing a campaign for environmental behavior change. The exhibit takes the viewer along a path, with different appeals and presentations at each step.
People need to come to behavior change through a process, most clearly described by Everett Rogers back in the 1960s in his book, Diffusion of Innovations. His Innovation Adoption Stages model looks like this:
Intentionally or not, the Ai Wei Wei installation follows the stages, leading the visitor from awareness of the issues, through “persuasion” via a multi-sensory deepening of the experience, and finally, offers a concrete action that the viewer can take.
The @Large installation begins at the New Industries Building. It takes several forms, but the initial contact focuses on making the viewer aware of the variety and extent of political imprisonment around the world. The floor of an enormous room is covered with portraits of political prisoners, made from LEGO bricks. At this point, the artist has not assumed that the viewer is ready to do something, but rather provides beautifully crafted “information” in the form of portraits of human faces arrayed across a huge space to raise awareness of the scope of the issue. Books detailing the stories of each of the prisoners are present, but the viewer is not in any way forced to learn more facts and figures. The act of walking the length of the huge room with the 176 portraits “sets the problem” in the mind and heart of the visitor.
The @Large exhibit continues to the cell block building, where the viewer starts to live into the experience of prisoners – visitors are invited to enter each of 12 small, unadorned and definitely not prettified cells. There is nothing to look at, but each cell has a different recording playing, usually of the music or speech of one of the prisoners. By involving the sense of hearing and the physical experience of walking into the tiny, dingy cells, the viewer becomes more fully involved and engaged.
After several more stops, at the end of the exhibition visitors are given the opportunity to write postcards addressed to individual prisoners whose portraits they saw earlier. The sponsoring Foundation notes: “The postcards are adorned with images of birds and plants from the nations where the prisoners are held. Cards are gathered and mailed by @Large Art Guides.”
The viewer has been led through awareness of the issue to persuasion about the problem’s scope and importance, though information and appeals to the emotions. Only at the end is the viewer invited to make a decision to act, by writing a personal communication to one of the prisoners introduced during the first stop of the exhibition. The viewer is not urged to act before s/he has had a chance to fully digest and explore the need to communicate. And by communicating, not to a general, amorphous authority, but to a single individual, the final action becomes that much more memorable.
Not all of our behavior change campaigns can be as beautiful and meaningful as Ai Wei Wei’s @Large, but there is much to admire in the intentional layout of the exhibit that aims to touch, inspire and ultimately, change the viewer. The exhibit ends this month…go see it if you can!
According to the U.S. government’s own definition, graphic designers “create visual concepts, by hand or using computer software, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, or captivate consumers.”
But how often do government communications actually inspire or captivate?
Our clients often say they want to “educate” or “inform” residents about their program. But in behavior change, we know that merely providing information does not guarantee action. We know we need to inspire and persuade — not just inform — and design plays a big role in meeting this challenge.
That said, we acknowledge there’s a time and place for just providing information, such as rate increases or service changes. In these cases, direct mail of a simple letter in an official envelope is the best way to cut through the clutter.
But when it comes to increasing participation in programs — from recycling and composting to planting trees — government should give creativity free rein. Here government agencies need to establish an emotional connection with the audience to overcome old habits, win over hearts and minds, and inspire change.
But wait, you say, “we need to look like we’re being responsible with taxpayer [or ratepayer] money, so we can’t do anything flashy or frivolous.” At Gigantic, we firmly believe there is a creative solution that is both engaging and appropriate, for every type of environmental campaign funded by public agencies. In fact, we’d argue that you could be wasting taxpayer money by not making it captivating. If no one notices your outreach, there’s no point in doing it.
And, we’d argue that a human-centered, thought provoking and positive concept — presented through a clutter-free design with professional imagery — has the best chance of attracting fans to your programs.
Here’s an example of one of our latest projects, for a government workplace recycling program. The project included both instructional and inspirational pieces, which were displayed separately to increase their impact. Here is one of the inspirational pieces.
Here’s another example, done for the Pentagon, which uses an emotional connection tailored specifically to the men and women charged with the security of the nation:
And this campaign, done by another advertising firm for StopWaste, a public agency, is a great example of using humor to engage viewers:
Wouldn’t you say these examples above have a better chance of increasing participation than a sign, like the one below, that merely tells us what to do without explaining why?
We know it’s not always easy to be captivating, but given the myriad messages that people are bombarded with every day, it’s more important than ever for government communications about environmental programs to offer more than just instruction. Government communications should include vibrant, contemporary images and catchy concepts to increase the receptivity of the message and therefore, the effectiveness of the outreach.