How can designers support relief efforts in Japan

On behalf of all our members, AIGA reached out with support, sympathy and an offer to help our Japanese colleagues in the aftermath of last week’s disastrous tsunami. Through Leimei Julia Chiu, executive director of the Japan Industrial Design Promotion Organization (JIDPO) and president elect of Icograda—as well as Mitsuo Katsui, president of the Japan Graphic Designers Association (JAGDA), our Japanese equivalent—we communicated our concern for the well-being of all Japanese citizens and specifically our fellow designers.

These organizations are currently very much focused on supporting their members and local communities, as well as finding ways to solicit information on products and services from their own designers and manufacturers that could be applied to improving life in transitional shelters, which may eventually become a worldwide resource.

In the meantime, Chiu has suggested that AIGA and its members might be able to help by sharing advice from similar experiences. As such, AIGA is sharing our experience following Hurricane Katrina with our “Leave No Designer Behind” initiative and have offered any help we can. Clearly, at the moment they are simply trying to determine the scope of the disaster and how design can help solve human, cultural, economic and environmental challenges.

In the months leading up to the 2011 International Design Alliance (IDA) Congress in Taipei this October, Chiu is seeking case studies from a range of design disciplines—industrial and product design; communication and information design; environmental/landscape, interior design and architecture—on how design solutions can be applied to natural calamities and how communities can rebuild their lives afterward. Japan alone can provide useful examples from past experiences with natural disasters (Kobe, Niigata) as well as the ways in which improvised solutions are being developed to deal with both the current impact of the Sendai earthquake and tsunami and the long-term reconstruction.

Although we know designers want to help, it may take some time and investigation to realize where our help is most needed. As we become aware of specific requests for American designers to help out, we will provide an alert here on and post it to all of our communication channels. Until that time, we stand in solidarity with the Japanese community—and everyone affected by the disaster in Japan—and we encourage designers to volunteer or contribute directly with humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross. (Google Crisis Response provides additional resources.) 

If you know of a design case study addressing similar disaster relief efforts that you think would be helpful, please share your links and stories here—they will be collected and shared with our colleagues in Japan and around the world.

About the Author: Richard Grefé is the director emeritus of AIGA, the professional association for design, the oldest and largest professional association of designers in the United States representing the interests of 27,000 designers working in a variety of communication media and dimensions, ranging from type and book designers to new media and experience designers. AIGA, o ver twenty years under Ric’s aegis, has become a leading advocate for the value of designing, as a way of thinking and as a means of creating strategic value for business, the civic realm and social change. Currently he is teaching “Human-centered designn for social change” at Wesleyan University. Ric earned a BA from Dartmouth College in economics, worked in intelligence in Asia, reported from the Bronx County Courthouse for AP, wrote for Time magazine on business and the economy and then earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Following an early career in urban design and public policy consulting, Ric managed the association responsible for strategic planning and legislative advocacy for public television and led a think tank on the future of public television and radio in Washington.