Designing around a pandemic: how we’re helping our cultural clients navigate the impact of COVID-19

5 min readJul 10, 2020

When economies contract, art is often the sacrificial lamb. Australians have seen this first hand in recent weeks, as the government announced that Australia will no longer have a Federal government department dedicated to the Arts. For a sector already shattered by the impact of the global pandemic, funding cuts are now causing a culture crisis. As these challenges continue across the world, we’ve been busy trying to help some of Australia’s leading arts institutions navigate their own pandemic-related difficulties and adapt to new ways of working to keep the doors open and the lights on.

Melbourne International Film Festival: From cinemas to streaming

In the middle of designing an evolved visual identity and campaign approach for the Melbourne International Film Festival, the pandemic hit. With its 69th annual festival due to take place in August 2020, MIFF was faced with taking its experience-based event online.

For Melburnians, MIFF is more than just a film festival. It’s an icon of Melbourne’s cultural calendar, bringing its famously loyal movie goers out in their droves on cold, dark Melbourne winter nights. The annual event, which is the third biggest film festival in the world after Cannes and Berlin, is much-loved and supported by locals, with film buffs of all ages excitedly anticipating the event every year.

How could MIFF replace the warmth of crowded cinemas on winter nights, the chatter of eager audiences before the film starts, the drinks, the popcorn, the Choc Tops, the shared human experience? The 69th annual festival was quickly reimagined to create MIFF 68 ½ — a digital film festival where viewers can stay home and see the world via a special streaming service. Our job was to create a campaign that captured MIFF’s magic despite the radical difference in experience.

MIFF 68½ campaign animation

Our concept ‘Stay home, see the world’ plays on the 2020 call to arms ‘stay home’, uplifting it with the celebratory counter of ‘see the world’. We ask the audience to come on a unique journey with us from the comfort of their own sofa. Playful iconography and language create opportunities for connection and help foster a sense of community during the event. So, as people sip, stay, snack and press play, bums will still be on seats, just their own.

MIFF 68½ campaign

The new brand was able to adapt to the digital space, and thanks to a new website and streaming platform, make the online experience richer and more engaging than it previously was.”

Ross Paxman, Design Director, MAUD

RISING: An adaptive arts identity

RISING: a surge of art, music and ceremony

RISING, a major cultural event for the Asia Pacific Region, faced a similar situation after its 2020 festival was delayed thanks to COVID-19. As we prepared to launch a new website and visual identity for RISING, the pandemic meant yet another rethink and we helped the team articulate this year’s initiative.

RISING takes the place of the Melbourne International Arts Festival and White Night Melbourne. Created by a diverse team of local, national and international artists and curators, it is an art, music and ceremony ‘surge’ in the heart of Melbourne. To support artists right now, RISING made a call to artists, asking them to create their work for the 2021 festival now, providing funding as part of a $2million government grant. We created a campaign, which marked the launch of the new visual identity, as well as a microsite to help communicate this year’s approach, a direct mailer and various social assets.

RISING: Fold-out poster mailer
RISING: Website for artist call-out

Crafting timeless and flexible identities is MAUD’s philosophy. After getting over the initial disappointment of postponing the event, the RISING identity has been robust and adaptable enough for a soft launch and significant change in plan.

Tom Fethers, Design Director, MAUD

Helping Sydney Dance Company stay on its feet

Sydney Dance Company — Virtual Studio campaign

Sydney Dance Company displayed its usual dynamism and verve, organising its Virtual Studio within days of the start of the pandemic. As a not-for-profit organisation, SDC relies heavily on donations and funding and with this now at risk, getting a Virtual Studio up and running quickly was pivotal to keeping the organisation in business. Taking all its classes online and offering unlimited dance at home, it encouraged professionals, members and newcomers to keep dancing and stay healthy. In partnership with SDC, we worked quickly to create an online identity as vibrant and positive as the Company itself, with impactful social assets and campaign language to communicate its new approach clearly and succinctly.

If this crisis has taught us anything, it’s the power of humanity. For people and teams to come together (at a safe distance), roll up their sleeves and work collaboratively to find solutions. As a studio, we are apart but we’ve never felt more together or more focused on getting solutions for clients in need rolling and out the door quickly. It has also taught us about our role as designers in all of this. Not only can we help create clear, beautiful and powerful messages to help people change their behaviours, as design thinkers we can help navigate disruptive forces, redefine problems and ultimately, find solutions.


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