Remembering 9/11: Then and Now

Tragedy and imagery go hand-in-hand. First there is the real image of the event captured on video and photographs. Then, even before the dust settles, artists and designers are often among the first responders. Creating signs, symbols, icons and expressive interpretations are among the mnemonic building blocks of remembrance. September 11, 2001—or 9/11, as its been branded in our consciousness—triggered countless post-tragedy images. Some in solidarity with the victims, others protesting the perpetrators, and still more commemorating the historical moment. Indeed many were all of these.

In the days, weeks and months following the devastation from the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, AIGA became a repository, clearing house and archive for impromptu and commissioned imagery.

David Womack, who was AIGA’s director of new media at the time, recalls:

We decided to create a gallery to let members post their own. My main memory was that the day after we launched the gallery, NPR ran a story about it and the server crashed, and then kept crashing because of all the traffic. [We] had to add five servers in order to keep up with the demand. 

The outpouring of emotion could not but result in work that quickly evolved into a universal language combining grief and heroism through symbols both universal and exclusive. Each image, regardless of style or concept, is an historical document. As visual history, they are resonant signposts too. 

Ric Grefé, AIGA executive director, notes that, in addition to collecting these images, AIGA joined with other organizations in New York to develop recommendations for infrastructure, planning and design to help rebuild lower Manhattan:

The most important contribution we made right after 9/11 was the role we played in the formation of ‘New York New Visions’ and the creation of the report and its findings for use in advocating design guidelines for the rebuilding of downtown New York. This group met here weekly for months and we were instrumental in the governance and managing the process leading to its advocacy role. (We arranged for the design and printing of the book and paid the expenses.)

To commemorate this anniversary we present a selection of the images collected a decade ago. If you have a remembrance you wish to share, please add it to the comments.

About the Author: Steven Heller, co-chair of the Designer as Author MFA and co-founder of the MFA in Design Criticism at School of Visual Arts, is the author of Merz to Emigre and Beyond: Avant Garde Magazine Design of the Twentieth Century (Phaidon Press), Iron Fists: Branding the Totalitarian State (Phaidon Press) and most recently Design Disasters: Great Designers, Fabulous Failure, and Lessons Learned (Allworth Press). He is also the co-author of New Vintage Type (Thames & Hudson), Becoming a Digital Designer (John Wiley & Co.), Teaching Motion Design (Allworth Press) and more.