OCHA hosts UN Designers Group in Geneva

A few months back, I wrote about how Geneva is a melting pot of communication professionals with plenty of active groups meeting to exchange ideas, challenges, and solutions to a constantly evolving field of work. I’m proud that ITU brought together the UN (graphic) designers group late last year with an inaugural meeting in November. Among the UN participants, it seemed that OCHA was ahead of the curve in integrating design into their work and so we were asked to host the second meeting. In May, we were finally able to get our butts in gear to host the meeting. While the first meeting was informal and over lunch, this time around lunch was still on the table, but we also wanted to put a little bit more structure and decided to focus on a key element of how design is used in OCHA’s work, particularly in times of emergencies. This usually means turning lots and lots of data and information from natural or complex disasters into easily accessible and understandable formats that can be used for advocacy, awareness-raising, planning and decision-making.


We explained how design is integrated into the humanitarian response process and how more and more visual design and communication is becoming an area in which other technicians (i.e. information managers and communication generalists) need to understand and be involved in despite the lack of knowledge and know-how. The basic idea is that there’s now so much information that comes through in times of disasters and emergency, it’s hard to make sense of it all and for it to tell a story that can help people understand the severity of the situation or to use this information to make the best decisions possible.


Not only is timing, data-reliability and access a challenge, but so is the issue of standardization and consistency. This means being able to do quick designs based on templates and standards because different people get involve in the design process at difference times during an emergency. But this also has an impact on the branding and consistent communication by the organization. One of the main challenges is to ensure that products meet a certain standard to ensure that an organization’s ‘brand’ is upheld and that people can trust the source of information because, in addition to the quality of the content, the visual identity and look/feel is also what provides value to the reader/user.

Thanks to the OCHA team for a great presentation, and to all the ones who attended the second lunch / meeting!

Posted by UN Geneva Graphic Design Community on Friday, May 22, 2015

There’s also always the constant challenge of “making things pretty”, which is what most people think of designers in this field, vs. “making things useful” – why would you take a 20-page document and turn it into something “pretty” only to have people read it… does that mean if it wasn’t pretty then people wouldn’t read it – what does that say about the document? An interesting discussion point around this was the fact that designers are always asked to help on ‘formatting’ which is actually different for ‘designing’ something. If you’re interested on the influence design (not formatting) has on our lives, “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald Norman is a must read…

There is no need to sacrifice beauty for usability or, for that matter, usability for beauty.

The most interesting part of the meeting was still over lunch where we talked about how people got into design (a lot of people didn’t come strictly from a design education), the challenges/stigma designers face in and outside of the office, and how visual communication is now part of ‘mainstream’ communication and what that means for designers. Like the Facebook page to get info on the next meeting and to stay in touch with the group and get news about design stuff.


Animated gifs are more expressive than static images

Photography is a lot of fun especially now when we have so many options to capture images whether its with a phone, camera, laptop, etc. Once in a while it does get a bit monotonous especially when I’m bored of taking static images. So I’ve been experimenting with creating animated gifs. It’s not all that new, but it is a lot of fun to bring a bunch of images to life.

While I’ve tried this with only a couple of images after a visit to the Olympic museum, I thought I’d give it a try with a lot more images after a photo shoot at work. This time each of the below animations contain approximately 60 images. The trick with an animated gif is that the more the images, the larger the file size so I’ve kept the gif small to reduce the loading/downloading time. Every image has it’s own distinct character, but when shown in a series they express more than just one image and gives a sense of time…



The whole process is really easy to do with Photoshop and the best instructions I’ve found to do it is here: http://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/how-to-make-an-animated-gif/

OCHA by the numbers inspired by this peacock

I had to learn a couple of things when I joined OCHA’s Visual Information Unit just over one year ago: deal with strange visitors at my window and interesting requests. For the first few months at my new office, I had this peacock and its family, allowed to roam freely on grounds of the UN, showing up either knocking its beak on the window or trying to jump on to the scaffolding. Not only was this unsettling, it was also the time when I was asked to work on the ‘OCHA by the numbers’ graphic for the 2013 annual report.

It was kind of like “hey you’re the new guy… here’s a project that you can work on for the annual report”. I was like “no pressure, right?” especially since annual reports are usually a big deal particular when it comes to justifying how money and funds were spent over the course of the year and a way to look for more. On top of all this was the fact that I was just given a MS Word document full of numbers and stats that I had to make sense of. And it didn’t help that the peacock would pass by everyday to look into our office window.


Maybe it was the way the bird has two distinct looks to it, and since this was for the corporate report, that I decided to split the graphic into two sections to highlight to readers what were the priorities for the organization and how the funds were spent. While the big numbers and country silhouettes provided visual interest to the one-pager, I really enjoyed working on the bar charts made of little squares which each represent USD 10 million – not the easiest thing to do as a bit of math was involved to make sure that the number of row and columns fit nicely in the space I had. One thing I found most interesting working on these charts was the comparison between how much funding was required by the humanitarian community to respond to crises and disasters and how little OCHA uses to achieve its mission to:

  • Mobilize and coordinate effective and principled humanitarian action in partnership with national and international actors in order to alleviate human suffering in disasters and emergencies.
  • Advocate the rights of people in need.
  • Promote preparedness and prevention.
  • Facilitate sustainable solutions.

Download the PDF version here on the 2013 OCHA Annual Report website… Some credit should go to the peacock for the inspiration!

Disaster graphics get bronze prize for international information design award

One of the buzz words these days is “infographics”. While these can range from just simple pie graphs to complex flowcharts, the best aren’t necessary the most “designed”. The most effective information graphics are ones that can communicate an idea or story and that can help the audience turn information into knowledge. This also means going through a design thinking process and understanding the subject matter so the “design” matches the objective of what the graphic is trying to communicate.

This was the philosophy I took when coming up with infographics for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). On a whim and to share my love for communicating information and data, I decided to enter a couple of infographics for the 2014 IIIDAward.


While I had an honorable mention in the 2011 IIIDAward, whaddya know, the graphics I entered this time around won third prize for two categories:

Didactics: “A timeline revisited”
This category was for projects that focus on educational or instructional information design – Download my entry here.


Editorial: “Making sense of disaster data”
This category was for projects related to media, journalism and writing – Download my entry here


The selection criteria was based on:

  1. Quality of the employed problem solving procedure:
    – identifying the information needs of users
    – making needed information available, accessible, understandable/usable
    – assessing the effectiveness of the provided information, if at all possible
  2. Attractiveness and elegance of the designed information

The IIIDAward is part of the International Institute for Information Design (IIID), a global network of individuals and organizations who are interested in optimizing information and information systems for knowledge transfer in everyday life, business, education and science. Its aims are to stimulate internationally the development, recognition and good practice of information design in its broadest sense.

All winners will have their work exhibited on a global tour. The first stop for the exhibition is the IIID Vision Plus 2015 conference in Birmingham: http://www.visionplus2015.info/
All winners will have their work exhibited on a global tour. The first stop for the exhibition is the IIID Vision Plus 2015 conference in Birmingham – http://www.visionplus2015.info/

World Humanitarian Day without Beyonce or Guetta

Every year on August 19, the world celebrates/commemorates World Humanitarian Day organized by UNOCHA, the UN organization I’ve been with since early this year. It’s a day to honor people who lost their lives in humanitarian service and those, who continue to bring assistance and relief to millions, and draw attention to humanitarian needs around the world. This is also the day that 22 United Nations staff were killed following a terrorist attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad in 2003.


The last couple of years have been filled with celebrities getting involved from Beyonce in 2012 to David Guetta last year. This year was a bit different because there was more emphasis on local aid workers and profiling how we need more #humanitarianheroes. It was my first time being a part of the preparations for the Geneva event and so I was excited to be a part of it, especially with all the focus it’s gathered in the last couple of years. It’s nice to see how the hard work didn’t go to waste, especially with the banners we designed…

And the photo gallery I put together for work…

After spending the time to prepare and promote the event in Geneva, listening and reading all the different opinions from the Day, I found myself wondering do we need more heroes? or do we just need to recognize that doing humanitarian work is hard (sometimes dirty) work that doesn’t get a lot of recognition? There’s a great post called “We Don’t Need Another Hero” that takes a bit of different take on the campaign.

They’re humanitarians too!

We can find humanitarians everywhere and I think that’s the whole focus of the Day – to shed a bit of light on the fact that people are out there making a difference. It makes me think of the a recent trip to the ICRC musuem and learning that all the records of missing people were meticulously tracked and managed by people. Even if they can be tracked by computers, someone has to put together these systems to do it.

Or the amount of work from behind the scenes it took to get this one family to find a new life in a new country…


All the behind the scenes work – usually not the kind of stuff that would make a good photo opp – is what’s necessary to save or change lives. Would you consider these people humanitarians? I would.

Women and Girls: a visible force for resilience


The International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) takes place every year on October 13. Since 2011, the Day has been part of a 4-year concept to build up momentum to 2015, an important date for the United Nations – it’s not only the deadline of the Millennium Development Goals ends, but also when the 10-year international framework for disaster risk reduction comes to an end. Conceptualized during my work with UNISDR, the 4-year Step Up initiative aims to promote disaster risk reduction and build up partnerships along the way to create a movement for the post-2015 international framework for disaster risk reduction.

Each year of the Step Up initiative focuses on a theme and group as described in the UNISDR website:

The Step Up initiative started in 2011 and will be focusing on a different group of partners every year leading up to the World Conference for Disaster Reduction in 2015 – Children and Young People (2011), Women and Girls (2012), people with disabilities (2013), and the ageing population (2014).

Watch the Romanian video below

In 2012, my role was to establish an online promotional campaign, that included using social media, to raise awareness about the day and highlight the role of Women and Girls as a force for disaster resilience. I also designed the t-shirts (photo above) for UNISDR for the day which were a big hit, especially the QR code on the backside.

In partnership with a whole range of partners and tapping into other campaigns such as “Because I am a Girl“, I led the project in developing an interactive website to celebrate IDDR, which included getting people to comment on and “map” the role of women in disaster risk reduction. We also developed a strategy to promote and engage in conversation on Twitter and Facebook, and setup a Flickr group for people to share photos. The partnerships, collaboration, and promotion led to the 2012 International Day becoming a global event with activities taking place from Afghanistan to Zambia. Over 80 countries celebrated the day with the theme “Women and Girls: the [in]Visible Force of Resilience”.

IDDR 2012 in Uganda

Before the day, I had an understanding that social media would be a powerful force for advocacy and promotion, much more than your traditional media broadcast. But, the results were beyond our expectations! We did a quick count and over 5000 tweets using #iddr were seen over 27 million times! Here’s a sample of what people were saying before, during and after the 2012 IDDR.

… and check out these videos below. The first one by a small island in the Caribbean who put a music video together, splicing video messages from different people, and second one of artists doing a graffiti mural interpreting the theme in Romania. This is inspirational and shows that there is not only interest in risk reduction, typically a difficult concept to understand, but also that there are people and groups who have the creativity to make this important subject, dare I say, cool!

Thanks for visiting in 2012


Google analytics are great when you’re managing websites or anything to do with tracking online use, visits, or engagement with web content. There’s so much that gets captured and that can be customized the way you want that if you like how statistics can help you do your job better, analytics are a great service/tool. While there’s plenty of ways to visualize the detail stats from a website, I like to stretch both my left and right side of the brain to make something compelling. And what better way than to take data that’s already available and clear and turn it into something nice and visual.

Not only is there plenty of engaging content on the UNISDR website, but also the issue of disaster risk reduction and the organization’s work has been increasingly gaining ground. And this shows in the number of visits to the website. In addition to showing this impact and indicator of interest in the organization, the infographic is kind of a “thank you” to all the people who’ve come to the website. It’s also one of the first infographics that I’ve done that integrates the organization’s new visual identity, which I’ve been working on for the last couple of year’s as part of updating UNISDR’s brand.

I’ve already received a few comments that people really like the eyes and doormat because it speaks to them and to the content – and that was what I was going for. It was based on some of the useful tips from this book I was reading recently. The graph is a bit small when printed but it does reveal some interesting facts and events when you can see it in a bigger size.

Parka Hunt: The search is on!

I’m spending today and tomorrow in a training session by facilitators from the Geneva Communications Network on using social media for work. Yes, if you can believe it – the communications channels we use nowadays and on a daily basis is something still foreign in how it can be used in professional/work environments. Today’s session was relatively straightforward with introductions into the benefits and challenges of social media, the different platforms and some hands-on work.

People say the “blog” is dead. But, today’s session really highlighted that blogs are still relevant (WordPress alone has almost 60 million blogs probably being read by millions more!). Not only are they flexible in accommodating your writing, creativity and giving you the ability to customize a website the way you want, but blogging platforms also provide an easy way to learn how to post and integrate things online – if you know how to blog, you’ll probably find Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms a lot easier to use.

Anyway, one of the assignments was to create our own blog. You’d think that since blogging has been around even before Facebook and other social media platforms, a lot of people would have had some experience with them. But, out of the 20-ish people sitting in the room, no one except maybe one or two people had a blog. I decided to create a test blog based on my recent search (i.e. obsession) for a winter jacket. I called it Parka Hunt. While it was more a joke to do it for the workshop, I realized why shouldn’t I actually write about my hunt, for real?

So here it is… I’ve copied the posts here on my search for a parka – I hope to have more soon!

Why the hunt?

One of the most important things for the winter is a good coat/jacket/parka. Yeah, there’s a benefit to dressing in “layers”, but then again, it’s a bit of a pain in the a$$ to have to put on or take-off these layers. How many is ever enough? Wouldn’t it be better to just have one jacket that keeps me warm without going through the process of dressing like a hermit?

So this is my attempt to capture my hunt for a suitable winter jacket.

My motivation comes from this video:

Step 2: Find out what’s out there


There’s plenty of stuff out there. Fur or no fur. Lining or no lining. Do I want to look like a puffy marshmallow? The variations and styles are sometimes nerve-racking, but window shopping usually doesn’t hurt anyone and can be fun.

I guess other people are thinking the same thing with some helpful tips and places to start looking.

[tweet https://twitter.com/loadedwino/status/278829688657412097]

Btw, even though winter is a festive season and we all like Santa and elves, the fashion sense probably isn’t something I want to be showing off on the streets (like the guys in the photo above).

 Step 1: Do I need a parka?


It’s that time of the year. The weather is changing. Temperatures are dropping. It’s like to find a new jacket for winter. I’m on the hunt for a parka.

When I typed “parka definition” into Google, this is what it came up with:


This is the criteria I’m going to use to start looking for my winter jacket.

To see or not to see?

I can’t believe it’s been almost a month since I last wrote in this blog. Time sure does fly, especially when we head into the holiday season with Christmas just around the corner. Maybe one of my new year’s resolutions should be to write more often… It seems friends and family, as well as some other people, liked my recent article about how Crisis Mapping and new technologies can be used for reducing disaster risk – well at least that’s what Facebook is telling me. Anyway, it’s always nice to get positive feedback and encouragement, given that writing is such a personal thing and people are pretty free to tear things apart.

Are we (becoming) a visual society? The photos in this post taken during this year’s Fete des Lumieres in Lyon, France illustrate that we are (and have been) a very visual society. Given that we now live in a age where screens have become second nature, do we need (more) images and visuals to stimulate the way we feed on information? The CrisisMappers conference that sparked the idea for the above article I wrote provided a good insight into this issue.

Fete des Lumeries - Cathedral Saint Jean

From the surface, CrisisMappers ICCM2011, the 3rd INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE of CRISIS MAPPERS, seemed to be full of visuals and the way we can now collect and share information in real-time through our mobile phones, the internet, iPads, etc… But at the same time, I went to one of the side events where a group of 50+ people  talked about how to better communicate the visuals – going beyond just dots on a map. So even with all this data and info that we can generate and collect, it seems we still have problems sifting through it all to tell a story. Do we need people who can both understand the technical bits of making things visual AND who can understand how all the visual and textual bits fit together to tell a story that makes sense to the world? Personally, I think it’s a good sign that we can’t just rely on making things “pretty”, and that we can’t just rely on the fact that the “facts/content speaks for itself”. It means that people working in the communication industry still have a lot of value – just as long as people are willing to evolve and change with the times, and understand the content and communication needs of the general public.

Fete des Lumieres - Place Louis Pradel leaves us wide-eyed

All this talk of “visuals” makes me think about people who are visually impaired or blind – how does our current technologies help them stay connected? But that’ll have to be another post!



Giving UNISDR a face-lift

In late September 2010, I started working with UNISDR, the strategic arm of the United Nations Secretariat that works on disaster risk reduction. One of the specific tasks I was given was to redesign and redevelopment the organization’s corporate website. The idea had been floating around the organization for a few years. It wasn’t an easy task since the organization had been using five different websites with variations in design and content for over five years, like the Africa page below. One of the main questions from management was how to improve the visual qualities of the website while making sure that the website was featuring UNISDR’s work in reducing disaster risks around the world.

The old UNISDR website

Leading a team that included a graphic designer in California, a CSS expert in Italy, and UNISDR’s in-house information architect, programmers and IT specialists, we managed to pull-off a completely new look and feel for the organization’s website in just over 6 months. The website is mixed with static content (i.e. page descriptions) provided by different departments, and dynamic features (i.e. publication lists, news, country profiles) generated from the organization’s proprietary content management system.

Putting together the technical aspects of the website was a straightforward process. All it really required was focused attention and follow-up with staff members and management to get people to contribute to and “buy-in” to the process of the redesign. We even recently developed, and which will be online soon, a nice feature to allow access and control by UNISDR’s offices around the world to update their own sections with content. The real work is making sure that content on the website is updated… and that’s more of a strategic communications issue – something I will be writing about in the future.

You can check out UNISDR’s new website here.