I was given the open-ended task of communicating an idea - whether it was a social or environmental issue, scientific concept, or a solution to a challenging question - by creating a visually stimulating stickers campaign. I wanted to design a system with meaning and context, rather than simply producing a “pretty” product. Around the time of this assignment, I was reading a number of articles about declining bee populations, including stories about fruit farmers in parts of South Western China who use human pollinators because bees have been eradicated due to the excessive pesticide use in the area and the loss of the bees’ natural habitat (see more here).
Knowing that the majority of the American public lacks interest in general issues unless they can see a direct and immediate effect to their way of life, I decided to approach declining bee populations with humor to attract attention to the issue— people respond better to honey than vinegar. My initial concept was to introduce the idea of humans taking over bees’ jobs in a positive way, as if humans could do a better job, while inserting pop culture references and celebrity endorsements, such as comedian Dane Cook’s “Fuck Bees” joke from his stand up act. My first attempt fell short as they focused more on the comedic idea of humans as pollinators, rather than creating a cohesive system and language to communicate the issue. At the suggestion of another designer, I began to study propaganda posters used by Russia during the Second World War. Appropriating this style led to a recognizablecall to action, using simple shapes and minimal colors to convey the idea. This style, combined with language related to bees (i.e. black and yellow, hexagons, honeycombs, etc), allowed me to change overt humor to veiled satire.
Editing information is key. Understanding how much information is necessary to effectively communicate an idea allowed me to pare down the information to the essentials. I wanted these stickers to insinuate a campaign that would only be understood by those in the know, causing others to want to research the message to understand why it was being disseminated. Someone suggested I watch Stephan Colbert’s “roast” at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner to better adjust the level of humor I wished to achieve (click here to watch). With these things in mind, I set out to redesign the images I had created and to make a strategic plan for where the stickers would be placed.
The locations chosen for sticker placement informed the design of the stickers. I wanted to place them in high-traffic areas (i.e. buildings, windows, car bumpers), as well as on or near products which are directly impacted by bee pollination such as in a grocery store, directly affixed to fruit or packages of almonds. These locations lead to the design of three sizes of a hexagonal shape:
• Large for viewing from a great distance, such as on the side of a building;
• Medium to view at close range, such as on telephone poles, or parking meters;
• Extra small to surprise a viewer when spotted, such as on food-items at a grocery store.
Then I visually and verbosely tied in propaganda and bee language andsimplified the color palate to three colors - black, white, and honey-yellow. Taking inspiration from the propaganda posters and using a Russian-looking typeface for the lettering, I knew I wanted to incorporate a simple cut-out/stencil look to my designs, centering on three main icons:
• Bee stencil with a strike through it (No to bees!);
• Fist in the air with the word “Pollinate” over it (Empower humans!);
• Hexagon with hexagonal rays and the text “Be the Bee” over it (Take what is ours!).
The original designs for each were more rounded and did not appear to have the same language and through the editing process I made the shapes simpler and angular; less like line-tracings.
I designed the medium and small size stickers to fit into interlocking hexagons to reflect the shapes of honeycombs and to imply that the designs were intended to be displayed near each other or together. Locations for the stickers included a boarded-up building, windows, power meters, and fruit (not in a grocery store, but rather photographed as a concept). Additionally, I made t-shirts with iron-on transfers as a way further to engage the public.
After applying the stickers around town it became clear that the campaign's next natural step would be to introduce them into the world of social media, bringing the ideas to armchair activists. I wanted to theorize how far this project could go so I made mock-ups of posts on various social media accounts postulating how this campaign could be evolve into a viral street-team campaign. Ideally, people who are in the know would make posts showing that they saw campaign stickers and people wearing related shirts, and others would ask what it was all about. In my mock up, I included mocked-up versions of how celebrities might show their support, using people such as President Barack Obama and Brad Pitt as examples and providing commentary on how American culture sources their political and environmental views.
The major learning from the process of this piece was just how essential the editing is— determining what information is necessary and finding the simplest way to convey that information. I found it important to remind myself that there needs to be a limit to the amount of information I try to give to viewers at once and, when attempting to convey information across multiple designs, there must to be a set language to ensure that the message is clear and viewers are not confused by conflicting design elements.
To see the final designs for this process, please click here.