Minecraft Fortnite COVID-19

The big re-opening: why it’s time for design to shine

By Sarah Moffat, Chief creative officer

June 8, 2021 | 5 min read

Whether it was lockdown or the Trump administration’s disdain for supporting the arts, creativity had a few dark moments during the past 16 months, writes Turner Duckworth creative chief Sarah Moffat. Now, it’s time for creativity – and, specifically, design – to lead the charge out of our homes and into the light.


The cheery colors and the retro styles of pandemic design have just been a Band-Aid — or perhaps a Welly ’Bravery Badge’ if that’s entered the lexicon yet. The truth is: design can do so much more.

Ingenuity is raising her head and true creativity has only just begun to stretch. The US isn’t just opening up, it’s waking up with greater awareness and a stronger appreciation for all things, great and small.

2020 had more in store for the US than the pandemic. From a creative point of view, it also marked the fourth consecutive year that the Trump administration proposed budget cuts in support of the arts, humanities and public television stations across the country. It was a clear and direct shot at the heart of creativity.

However, creativity thrives on adversity. Every global disaster has brought about an intense period of creativity. Newton had an early ’a-ha!’ moment during a lockdown. An inspiring apple tree outside his bedroom window that changed the course of how we perceive the world. Creativity is at its best when it’s out of its comfort zone. If you’ve ever provoked a seemingly quiet designer you may be familiar with Newton’s third law (with apologies to my physics teacher): try to oppose creativity and it will push back with an equal and opposite force.

Time to stop doing the expected

During lockdown, design took orders to give orders: wear a mask, wash your hands, stay at home, stay away etc. It’s since spilled into the streets with acts of protest, defiance, and even beauty but each one, a challenge to the status quo.

If 2020 taught us anything it’s that life doesn’t come with a crystal ball. We can’t predict what’s to come but looking back at 2020, we can use it as a call to action for all creatives out there. Design can continue to operate as a kiss-it-better quick fix but more considerate, intelligent, and playful design can make positive change for the better.

As the country opens up, let’s use design to help brands shift more clearly from popularity contests to community service. Fewer dad-on-rollerblades showing up at the skatepark, embarrassing the kids, and more dad-the-patron helping build the skatepark, putting the Go-Pro in their hands and sharing in their joy. Considerate design is in service of the consumer and the brand. Budweiser’s bold move to drop its Superbowl spot, diverting funds to promote awareness for the Covid-19 vaccinations was a clear act of kinship versus the usual sponsorship.

Time for design to get more playful

We will need to deliver more intelligent design, the type of design with brains and beauty. Messages that are single-minded and direct but delivered with style and wit. Uni-Form, the collection of genderless school uniforms by Angus Chiang, made us smile as much as they made us think. The collection goes beyond looks to question stereotypes and encourage self-expression for school students in Taiwan. Intelligent design can help rewrite the rules on telling us how to behave and act.

We could all also use a little levity and that’s where playful design delivers. There is an explosion of virtual experiences within the virtual worlds of Minecraft, Fortnite, RoBlox et al. A place where history is alive and kicking. A rebuilt Berlin Wall lest we forget, lost cities recreated and ready to be rediscovered, a hidden library with virtual publications banned in print but screaming in support of free speech as pixels. The ’Block Down simulator’ where players can experience the real effects of a pandemic from the comfort of their living room. Playful design can explore heavy topics with a light touch and encourage learning and growth by osmosis.

Design is more than decoration. It can be considerate, intelligent, playful and so much more. The perfect side-kick for whatever the universe has planned next.

And as for the proposed budget cuts for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities in the fiscal year 2020? Congress voted to award $162.25m, a 10-year high, and 2021 has a healthy $167.5m in its pocket. As a designer, I was never really that good with numbers, but I’d say we’re trending in the right direction.

Sarah Moffat is chief creative officer at Turner Duckworth.

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