102 Hours: The story of the Boston Marathon Bombing Told Through Iconography

102 Hours, a book created by Tank Design Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, retells the story of last year’s Boston Marathon bombing purely through iconography.

The idea for an iconographic approach was born in the days immediately following the bombing, a time that was at once tragic, mesmerizing and confusing. How do we, as designers, make sense of it all? How do we rationalize a response from the local and federal government that was unlike anything Boston had seen before? How do we make sense of all the media coverage? How do we cope?

Designers pride themselves on simplifying expression and messaging to its very core. Andrew Smiles, creative director at Tank, asked his team, “How do we create clarity around this chaotic sequence of events...and make it easy for people to follow?” Out of that question came a design challenge: strip the story to its essence—tell it with iconography. Even with icons, there was no question that this story would touch upon profound themes like heroism and violence, perseverance and privacy. We wanted to create an account that was honest, visually rich and emotionally engaging.

The exercise began with a timeline. Once established, this timeline was used as a backdrop for image research and mood boards. Filled with photographs of the events, quotations and inspiring elements that communicated similar concepts, these boards were used as the foundation for the icons.

The icons evolved simultaneously. Every time a resonant icon was created, those that were deemed successes previously were refined to match the new aesthetic. This period of evolution and refinement lasted nine months, right up until the book went to print.

But simply creating a book in remembrance of those troubling days in April 2013 doesn’t guarantee anything will change. The Tank team wanted to use this project to contribute something more profound, something that could encourage real change—a design education.

There are plenty of ways to build a stronger community, but as designers, writers and marketers, Tank believes they can have the most impact by mentoring and teaching others. With that in mind, the Tank team decided to sell 102 Hours and donate profits to Youth Design, a Boston-based nonprofit organization that mentors high school students using art and design as a medium of expression.