What role does Visual Communication play for the I-CHANGE project? The I-CHANGE project focuses on citizens’ behavioral change and their sustainable daily choices: how they move around their cities, how they deal with waste, what they eat, how they use electricity, and so on. The project also looks at what long-term solutions can be brought about in cities with the help of citizens.
In 8 different Living Labs, cities across Europe as well as in Israel and Burkina Faso, citizens are using sensors to collect data, for example of temperature, air pollution and humidity in their homes and neighbourhoods. The data collected will provide more information on how to adapt to climate change. To communicate this goal, it is the communication designers’ job to make the information visually accessible and comprehensible to the audience. But the visual preparation of the content, e.g. through icons for animations and platforms that I-CHANGE provides, poses a few challenges.
One consideration is the target group. EU projects like I-CHANGE often target a wide range of people, of all genders, ages, classes, nationalities, and physical abilities – in other words, everyone. Reaching a wide array of target groups is a big challenge, especially for the communication of these projects. But categories of people need to be reconsidered because they reproduce stereotypes and thus can be stigmatizing. Therefore, the view of people and our environment must be continuously reflected. This sometimes takes time in the process, but it is important to reach diverse people in a respectful way.
Designers are trained to understand what people like to see, feel and experience through visuals and how these preferences can vary from group to group. This knowledge is reflected in the visual representation of the people and their surroundings, including objects, buildings and consumer products. Since I-CHANGE needs to reach people from diverse places such as Jerusalem, Amsterdam and Ouagadougou, it is a complicated task to visually correspond to all contexts.
One example of this difficulty is the creation of an icon for „food“: carrots, an apple, broccoli, and a tetra-pack of milk can be seen as a Central European representation of food, as these items might not be available in other regions. Based on this type of representation, we had to discuss and modify it by adding a bowl with a generic grain, corn, and replacing the milk package with a jug of milk. This argument could also be applied to the depiction of buildings.
Another example is the depiction of people themselves. Most icons and illustrations of people are male and female – often distinguished by wearing pants or a dress – both standing straight on their feet. However, in order to make the representation of the people for I-CHANGE more diverse, the figures were given a less defined body shape and size. The clothes are not clearly recognisable, their silhouettes change with movement, children and old people, as well as people in a wheelchair are included, and different skin colors are also represented. Showing those different characters also make challenges in cities visible. Not all old people can drive a car, not all people in wheelchairs can ride a bike. These details underline the important role of visualization, which can act as a reminder of multiple aspects which are important for the project.
Furthermore, gender roles also have to be reflected in more detailed illustrations. A lot of components that we use for visualization are already loaded with meaning, like colors and shapes, especially when it comes to gender. This means there needs to be an awareness of which task is assigned to which character, what clothes and colors the person is wearing, what body shape the figure has, their haircut, etc. Thus, cliché gender roles can be purposefully mixed and matched: one male character wears pink, another uses the vacuum cleaner, and short hair can be assigned to all genders. Approaching it this way is an attempt to create diversity and at the same time maintain identifications. That’s why it is so important to get feedback during and after the process, so that it can be adapted for further work.
In the beginning of June 2023, Catharina Dörr – one of the I-CHANGE designers – gave a presentation on „Visual Communication of Sustainability“ as part of the EU GreenWeek. She is responsible for the graphic design as well as illustrations and animations within the project. In her talk, which was recorded and can be watched here, she talks about the design of two Horizon2020 projects, RethinkAction and I-CHANGE. The role of design in these projects and what decisions need to be made for good visual communication were the focus of her talk. For this article we have summarized the most important aspects.