How creativity and design help local governments fight COVID-19

Government signage regarding COVID-19

The outbreak of COVID-19 gave already busy local governments and public agencies even more to do. Not only do they need to continue delivering essential services under difficult conditions, they must keep constituents, employees, and businesses safe as the situation evolves.

One key challenge is communication. People need clear, consistent communication about guidelines and restrictions – and the impact on their neighborhoods and daily routines. They need to know when to wear a mask, which public spaces are closed, how to safely operate businesses, which activities to avoid, when to stay home altogether, and many other frequently changing details. It falls largely on local government agencies to keep people informed about these critical public health measures.

But putting together a comprehensive awareness campaign can be challenging in even the best of circumstances, not to mention in the middle of a pandemic. While essential workers such as maintenance crews and firefighters adapt to new safety precautions in the field, other employees are adjusting to working from home.

In light of the difficulties, there are some amazing stories about how local governments and public agencies worldwide have risen to the challenges, using creativity and design to keep their cities running smoothly and safely. Among the many stories submitted for the Adobe Government Creativity Awards (AGCA), here are a few that inspire us.

Randwick Council helps “Spread Kindness Not Germs”

Randwick Council is the local government for a group of 13 suburbs along the coastline of Sydney, Australia responsible for everything from environmental regulations and economic development to community events and public spaces. When COVID-19 spread to Australia, it was the council’s job to keep residents informed.

“When the pandemic hit, our playgrounds, outdoor gyms, and ocean pools closed, and there were restrictions on the number of people allowed on the beaches,” says Chelsea Hunter, who leads coordination of communications at Randwick Council. “We had to clearly communicate the state’s public health orders and make sure people really understood how the restrictions applied to them.”

The council needed to act fast, but it also knew how important it was to get the messaging right. Hunter and her team wanted to convey authority and clarity as residents grappled with a rapidly evolving situation. But they also knew anxiety was running high, and communications needed to be friendly and inclusive. That’s how they came up with “Spread Kindness Not Germs” – a campaign with an instantly recognizable look and feel that combines a decisive navy blue with approachable emojis.

Image Source: Randwick Council

“By using Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Premiere Pro, we can quickly design quality campaign assets that are easy to adapt to reach people everywhere with timely information,” explains Hunter. The materials developed with Adobe applications include signage for public spaces, from beaches and parks to administration buildings and libraries – notifying people of closures and restrictions. It also includes digital graphics and video for the website and social media.

Image Source: Randwick Council

And Hunter adds that the communications have been a way for the Council to bring people together. “We created a postcard that people could pop in their neighbors’ letterboxes, which was a friendly way for people to offer help to each other,” she says. “We also printed blue shirts with the Spread Kindness Not Germs design, which gave us a creative way to keep people employed after libraries and other public buildings closed. We call them ‘blue shirt helpers’ – they visit public spaces and remind people to follow the safety guidelines.”

Image Source: Randwick Council

The council’s creative team benefitted from having Adobe Creative Cloud storage and Adobe Creative Cloud Libraries when they all suddenly needed to work from home. “Using Creative Cloud Libraries allowed our designers to work quickly and collaboratively without doubling up on documents or using old or outdated assets,” says Hunter.

“Working with Creative Cloud storage and Creative Cloud Libraries ensured that we were all working as a team and not as silos and kept our files organized and up to date.”

Chelsea Hunter, head of coordination of communications, Randwick Council

Like any effective campaign, Spread Kindness Not Germs attracted admirers. “One of our neighboring councils really liked the idea as well, so we gave them our designs and they printed off their own blue shirts,” Hunter says. “That created a consistent message across a huge swath of the Sydney coastline, reminding people that just a few small behavioral changes can stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Placer County works to safely “Reopen Placer”

Placer County encompasses an area of Northern California that stretches from the Sacramento Valley all the way to Lake Tahoe. It’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, and residents were eager to return to normal activities as the state’s shelter-in-place orders started to ease up. But the county needed to make sure businesses could reopen safely and responsibly.

“Official government orders are written in ways that are not always easy for people to understand,” says Darren Huppert, Placer County’s digital communications specialist. “With the Reopen Placer campaign, our priorities were to use plain language, a visually appealing look and feel, and a user experience that would make the communications approachable and clear for everyone.”

Image Source: Placer County

There are as many as 20 Placer County employees using Creative Cloud across the organization, and the tools were indispensable as the “Reopen Placer” campaign was brought to life. Using Photoshop, Lightroom, InDesign, and Illustrator, the Reopen Placer team started with a logo and a color palette built around the existing Placer brand and created a whole spread of assets. Keeping everything in Adobe Creative Cloud Libraries allowed them to quickly pass files back and forth for review, with easy access to design elements such as images and color swatches.

One of the team’s key deliverables was a business toolkit with industry-specific resources, helping businesses stay in compliance with public health orders. It included best practices and guidance, a supply and services directory, resources for personal protective equipment (PPE), frequently asked questions, and printable posters periodically updated with the latest information.

Image Source: Placer County

Through Adobe Creative Cloud Libraries, the graphic designer shared design assets with the rest of the team to use in print and digital media. Huppert created a Reopen Placer website with the help of Dreamweaver to add custom design elements that made a stronger visual impact and reinforced key messaging. The new website gave businesses a central source of information on California guidelines and useful tools and resources. The digital team used Adobe Spark for quick social media posts and videos to engage people online. In addition, the team found that Adobe Stock was an invaluable resource for graphics and images.

“COVID-19 made it challenging to send our staff photographer in the field for specific shots – for example, if we needed a photo of a restaurant owner wearing a mask,” says Mirinda Glick, Placer County graphic designer and document solutions manager.

“With Adobe Stock, we can grab a high-quality stock image that looks like it could be in the county, so we can manage quick turnarounds.”

Mirinda Glick, graphic designer and document solutions manager, Placer County

To provide more personalized guidance for businesses, Huppert used Dreamweaver to develop a “Can I open?” tool on the county website. People simply indicate the type of business or activity they’re interested in, and the tool provides a clear answer on whether they’re allowed to open and which restrictions apply.

All their efforts are paying off. Huppert and Glick watched the metrics unfold on the website, social media, and email. “Newsletter subscribers went up, and we saw a 46 percent open rate for Reopen Placer campaign emails,” says Huppert.

Image Source: Placer County

Beyond the pandemic, those results are a clear win for the county and a great foundation for amplifying future engagement. But for now, it’s enough to give residents and businesses the guidance they need to reopen responsibly.

TransLink is the public transportation authority for the southern coast of British Columbia, Canada. In a normal year, it supports as many as 272 million journeys in and around Metro Vancouver. At the start of COVID-19, ridership had dropped 83 percent (compared to 2019). TransLink marketing and creative teams have been busier than ever, however, posting safety guidelines to help keep people moving safely, including messages about social distancing and staying home when sick.

“It became clear to us that encouraging people to wear masks was one of the most important things we could do to build public confidence that it’s safe to ride the transit system,” says Holly Millar, corporate marketing specialist at TransLink. “We wanted to show people that wearing a mask helps to keep others healthy.”

For the marketing and creative teams, it was a chance to do something different and creative – a departure from the bright yellow signage they had created at the beginning of the pandemic to highlight urgent COVID-related operational changes. Aiming to help people feel comfortable riding public transit, the teams decided to adopt a more approachable look and feel, dominated by the subtle tones of pink, blue, and green. They called the campaign “Wearing is Caring.”

Image Source: TransLink

The omnichannel campaign featured original concepts and illustrations, outdoor signage, social posts, digital screen animations, and various graphics created in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.

The teams peppered TransLink trains, buses, SeaBus, and transit stations with posters, sandwich boards, interior cards, and digital signage. They created bus wraps and floor decals to take the messaging to the streets of Metro Vancouver. They designed visuals for use on social media and digital advertising. And they kicked it all off with a media event, with local influencers handing out free TransLink-branded masks to the public (socially distant). One of the buses even joined the movement, sporting a giant mask on its front grill.

The campaign went viral. It generated hundreds of local media stories in print, radio, online and was covered on all major television networks. It created a buzz on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok with the hashtag #wearingiscaring. Other government agencies started contacting TransLink, asking for permission to adopt the giant bus mask and the campaign tagline.

Most importantly, the campaign worked. People in Metro Vancouver were lining up (again, socially distant) for TransLink branded masks and wearing them while travelling on transit. The Wearing is Caring campaign helped set the stage for the mandatory mask mandate which came later in the summer. Within two weeks of announcing that masks were mandatory TransLink saw 92 percent compliance with the mandate.

“We’ve all done so many challenging campaigns in our professional lives, but this wasn’t your typical ad campaign – and the ask was not your typical call to action,” says Julia Ouspenska, Creative Lead for this campaign. “We were able to couple an important message with a compelling creative concept across an impressive range of campaign components. As a result, we got citizens to take action and created amazing bonds between TransLink and other transportation agencies across North America.”

The power of design in a pandemic

It’s inspiring to see local governments and public agencies do some of their best work during a global pandemic. Their creativity plays a crucial role in keeping people safe and healthy under conditions that can be confusing and fast-changing. It’s a testament to the importance of clear, compelling communications in times of crisis – and the power of impactful design, created with the help of Adobe.

See more examples of creativity in government by viewing the Adobe Government Creativity Awards (AGCA) entries here.