Many Americans are currently fighting to push back against the administration’s anti-refugee efforts, and those in the graphic design community are, of course, trying to come up with ways to use their skills to make a difference. If you’re in a similar quandary, take heed from a project by a group of recent visual communication graduates in Germany.
Working under the name Public Positions, the platform, launched by Timm Hartmann, promotes design with a social conscience; most recently it’s featured posters designed to combat feelings of dislocation and alienation in young refugees in Germany.
Hartmann started working with refugees about a year ago in Leipzig; under his artistic direction, a group of 17 refugee children designed and produced an original collection of soccer apparel to raise funds for their sports club. Together with art director Florian Seidel and photographer Nora Heinisch, Hartmann has now extended the design project to personalized posters for young newcomers, using graphic design as a way not just to educate, but to promote a sense of welcome among refugees, too.
“We contacted the accommodations where young refugees live and asked what would help,” Hartmann says. “They told us that the boys’ rooms are very impersonal and uncomfortable, suggesting that we could help the boys make their rooms more personalized. The idea of creating a poster series where each kid depicted their hobbies and wishes seemed natural.”
Public Positions decided to create designs that reminded each boy of who they are, where they come from, and their dreams and goals for the future. Seidel sat down with each of the boys, getting them to write down their name in big letters with a Sharpie, and then drew from those sketches to design vibrant typographic prints. Little graphic details are inspired by stories they told him. For example, one poster features a soaring Frisbee, another details a love for hip hop, the UK’s Chelsea soccer team, and the color black.
“It was important to us that the boys could take the final results with them wherever they go next,” says Hartmann, conscious of how something as simple as a much loved poster can transform every new space into one that feels like home.
Heinisch shot portraits of the kids for a subsequent exhibition that took place in Berlin last weekend. “Graphic design was the perfect mediator for getting in contact with these kids,” says Hartmann. “We listened to their stories and emboldened them to move on and reach their goals. They learned how to visualize an idea, to design, and to realize something unique—and the assignment encouraged them to focus on who they are and what their strengths are. As they’ve had to leave their families and their roots, it’s hard for these kids to imagine what a future in Europe could look like.”
With the influx of refugees in the German capital over the last few years, a lot of Berliners have been wondering how they can use their skillset to lend a hand. Platforms like Give Something Back to Berlin are notice boards where the creative community can offer up their skills. There’s also a new magazine called Cameo, which tells stories about refugees in Germany, written and documented by refugee contributors.
“Since starting this project, I’ve learned to go back to the roots of what visual communication is,” says Hartmann.
“It feels like it’s caught in a trap at the moment, where everything has to simply look nice and fashionable. It’s actually very easy to design something excellent that has a social conscience, too. That’s why I created the platform. With it, I invite other graphic artists to do something sustainable, and to become more aware of their public position and how to use visual communication to educate and help others.”